Sunday, August 23, 2009

Deadgirl (2008).

Deadgirl is one of the few films that has made me check myself whilst watching. Asking what exactly I am doing viewing this stuff.

It's not even graphic, but it doesn't have to be. When the whole plot of a movie is centred around the repeated rape and abuse of a woman - okay, so it's a "monstrous" woman, a "zombie" woman - even I, whose discomfort threshold is pretty damn high, sits back and wonders what she is doing participating in this.

This is a horror movie but not in the conventional sense.

"She's just a dead girl, man. That's all"
Rickie and J.T. are two seventeen year old friends. They are the "weird kids", looked down upon or just plain ignored by all the other social groups in high school. One day while cutting class, they break into an abandoned hospital. After some wanton vandalism, they head down into the basement and find a girl, chained to a hospital trolley and apparently alive. They unzip her from the see-through body bag she is in.
"We could keep her...?"

I don't wish to make generalisations about the way seventeen year old boy's minds work, but this film pretty much spells it out: Sex. At any cost.

J.T. immediately sees this girl as something to give him sexual fulfillment and nothing else. She is something to fuck. Whenever anyone asks who the girl is or was, how she got there, what her story is... J.T. seems almost confused by the question. These are needless minutiae that he doesn't give a shit about. All he cares is that she is there and she is theirs.

Rickie runs, disgusted and terrified from the scene, only to be drawn back later by J.T. He stayed with the girl, raped her and when she started struggling he beat her to death. Only she didn't die. By the time Rickie returns his friend has done enough to her to have killed her three times over, has "heard her neck snap" and still she lays looking at them unaware that she shouldn't even be conscious let alone "alive".

Then unfolds the tale of deadgirl. The "unwilling but able" sex slave of a group of high school boys.

Things take an even more putrid turn when J.T. and Wheeler, another male let in on the secret, discuss how the girl is starting to smell and hint that the natural sexual orifices are becoming old news. Basically it comes down to "what other holes can we fuck her in?" and with that J.T. fingers an infected bullet wound in her belly.
"It's warm... and wet. This one is mine - there are two others just like it."
Wheeler laughs incredulously. Then he nods his head in compliance and says okay.

Sex with wounds is not news of course, we saw Crash. It's the nature of J.T. and the others, that's what made my skin crawl. What depths they will plummet to, in order to get their ends away. It's the reviewers catchline for the movie it seems, but the monster in this film is not the dead girl. It's J.T. and just about every male character we encounter.

When asked by a newcomer why the girl is tied up and looks to have been beaten, J.T. retorts:
"Because that's the way she likes it. Rough! S and M! Neither of you seen any pornos before? That's the way we give it to her. She's hot for it."
He says this dressed as a sick parody of Hugh Hefner, in underpants and dressing gown. We are given the impression he has moved permanently into the basement with her now. While he talks he strokes her arm as she is tied to the bed, barely conscious. Yeah, really hot for it.

After some trap-goading by the others, a jock is persuaded to let deadgirl give him a blowjob. Everyone but him sees where this is going... She bites it. His friend screams that they'll go to the cops. He is then presented with a dilemma: J.T., in the only instance in the film where the actual word "rape" is used, challenges them to explain to the police - and his girlfriend - how the injury came about when he was "raping a girl in the mouth". Their response is one of genuine shock and they try to defend their actions by stating that J.T. himself had told them the girl would "like it". Despite their horror - itself only manifested when the plans went wrong - they remain silent about the incident for the rest of the film.

A horrible scene to watch, made even more frightful by its juxtaposition with his fate, once the infection sets in. This is played for disgusting laughs:

Rickie, initially the most sympathetic character, is the only one given any fleshing out, if you pardon the pun. We see him at home, usually agonising over his situation or interacting with his mother's boyfriend. His mother herself never makes an appearance, tellingly. Whenever Rickie gets home and calls to she if she is in, she never is. This film has a largely male cast; with a small pool of girls as background cheerleaders and the like.

One of the more prevalent females is JoAnn, whom Rickie lusts after. She is an altogether more living female, but even his sexual daydreams of her culminate in the visage of deadgirl.

Thus entwining the two female leads: his real life object of affection and deadgirl, steadfastly together. After this dream is one of the many times he finds himself pulled back to the basement, presumably (he gets interrupted so we never see) to close his eyes and stick his dick in the living corpse, while imagining it's JoAnn. Fuuucked uuuup!

The one woman who is seen in the movie with successful strength is a would-be victim of J.T. and Wheeler. In another blackly comic sequence, she is belted over the head with a crowbar in the hope she will fall into their trunk to be abducted. Unfortunately for the boys, this woman is merely stunned and, as blood runs down her face, proceeds to beat the crap out of both of them on a petrol station forecourt, before robbing them and driving off. A peculiar addition to a film which was up until this point expressly about the ritual abuse and humiliation of another female.

But abuse issues aside for just a moment, I have to mention that there is some stunning cinematography in this movie. Mostly in establishing shots; the desolate small-town feeling is conveyed pretty much perfectly by something like this:

It reminded me of Brick in this way. Full of sky and yet somehow still almost unbearably oppressive. I'm not saying that it's okay for these kids to resort to awful acts because they view themselves as beyond help and hope, it just struck me that the film makers had an eye for this kind of mood-setting. J.T. states at one point "We have got nothing to lose", which pretty much hammers home that even at seventeen these boys figure they are a lost cause to society and therefore practically above the law - or more specifically not even on the law's radar.

Here's a quote that I happen to agree with. I found it on the official site in the press section. It is from Little White Lies magazine:
"The male characters each represent a different stage of the evil of men: they all in the end treat women the same, no matter how long it takes them to reach that stage."
This is how I viewed this film. Every man is just at a different level of depravity and poor - yes, poor! - deadgirl is the undead victim in it all.

Are we going to see more zombie rape films in the future? This is the second one in which I have seen it featured, believe it or not (the first being Zombie Diaries). It's a new direction for a genre in need of one, if a thoroughly disturbing idea. I considered Googling "zombie rape" to see if anything came up that I could mention here, but even I have standards I'm afraid.

Interestingly, I wasn't quite sure how I felt about Deadgirl immediately after watching it. However writing this review and forcing myself to think about it more than superficially, I have come around to seeing its value. I'm not sure I would want to own it, or see it again any time soon... But there's something about it that got to me and I think it has a valid place in the horror genre. The whole point of horror is to push boundaries, this film certainly does that and got me thinking about its very obvious issues in a way that a horror flick hasn't done in a good while.

Here's an article I found on "zombie feminism". Whether or not you agree with what is said is up to you, but I found it interesting!


  1. When I first heard about the film and even when watching it, I was really surprised that it was set in a high school as I just knew the actors were older than that so it surprised me that they were playing younger. I guess it fits with the male hierachy system thing?

    I was utterly disgusted with the wanton damage they did to the poor abandoned mental asylum, just shows how they have no respect for anything, even themselves.

    I liked the special effects slideshow, did you see that featurette?

  2. I haven't see this yet, but from what I've heard the film handles its disturbing subject matter in a way that is thematically relevent and not exploitive. I was worried it would turn out to be a Salo-esque flick when I first heard about it.

  3. Your description of this flick reminded me of a quote from author Victor LaValle:

    "Empathy is the one thing that separates human beings from teenage boys."

  4. I heard about this flick a 'lil while ago, looks like I'll have to actually put it on my 'to watch' list now.

    Not sure how I feel about the 'Zombie Feminism' issue, though it certainly opens up some interesting discussion topics. I shall muse on it over coffee.

  5. Definitely a fucked up flick. I kind of thought there would be some sort of explanation of "why". Worth a watch, but its not going to be in to many peoples top ten lists.

  6. Katie - Yeah I saw it. I loved seeing deadgirl in her fluffy slippers and on the phone, aww. So surreal but I suppose it was good she was treated so nicely on set!

    Zed - It's an interesting one; it's a sick little film but not in an exploitative way. You have to wonder what kind of mind would come up with this stuff... But then the same could be said for a lot of horror I guess? Lemme know what you think when you do see it.

    CRwM - VERY nice quote! :)

    mono - I am so easily led that when I first read it I totally agreed. But then mulled over it and it seemed to make much less sense! In any case, I do like gender discussions - esp in horror. Would love to study such a thing, as I have said before :)

    The Captain - I thought there would be as well! But I suppose in a way it's better there isn't? Life is pretty fucked up and rarely with good reason?!