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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Deadgirl: This Year's "Inside"?

I had the privilege last week of interviewing Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, directors of next month's shocking new addition to the horror landscape, Deadgirl. In that interview, they provided me some insight into the making of this truly challenging and daring film. If you haven't heard it, I encourage you to do so.

Deadgirl is the kind of a film that might make you angry while watching it, but only because it asks questions you're not comfortable being asked. At the heart of the picture is the ethical conundrum: How far would you go if you knew there would be no consequences?

The central conceit of the film revolves around Rickie and JT, two high school misfits who stumble upon a strange, silent girl strapped to a table in the bowels of an abandoned mental asylum. Once they discover that she apparently can't be killed, and also that no one else knows she's there, things start to get hairy. One of the two, JT, descends into a pit of moral relativism, turning the captive female into his own personal sex slave, while Rickie attempts to balance his friendship with said JT and his own sense of right and wrong.

In the beginning, I'll admit, the movie made me a bit angry. I sat there watching it, thinking, is this really these guys' opinion of the human race? Who would really do something like this, torture someone for no reason, and seemingly normal, everyday teenagers, to boot? But after sad and careful consideration, I had to admit that, yes, humans do have this capacity in them. Anyone who doesn't agree need only watch the six o'clock news for a few minutes. This is reality, folks. Happens every day.

The movie is anchored by two fine performances from Shiloh Fernandez as Rickie and Noah Segan (of the upcoming Cabin Fever 2) as JT. Segan in particular is impressive, effecting the moral transformation from angsty teen outcast to sadistic, depraved monster with convincing skill. The friendship between the two boys is very important to the film, and although it starts off a bit slow in establishing this friendship, I urge you to stick with it.

Written by prolific horror scribe Trent Haaga (Jessicka Rabid, Citizen Toxie), the film comes across as part grueling horror, part adolescent coming-of-age story. It's certainly not your typical horror flick, and in many ways reminded me of another, similarly envelope-pushing, unorthodox horror film, Inside. Like that film, this one plays with our sense of morality, asks uncomfortable questions, and assaults our senses with brutal imagery and ideas.

Also like Inside, Deadgirl doesn't revel in shock for shock's sake. Unlike much of what is called "torture porn", it has something to say, and everything we see, as disgusting and painful as it may be, serves an artistic purpose. Like Inside, I wouldn't even classify this as exploitation cinema. This is a very serious film, with a serious message.

And I warn you, this really is quite the uncompromising piece of cinema. Characters make decisions that will leave you reeling--even characters you like. And not to spoil anything, but the ending left me feeling brutalized (in a good way), questioning everything I had seen before. It's the ultimate capper to a movie that isn't afraid to make daring statements and tell us things we don't want to hear. It's bleak, tragic, and unfortunately, completely believable, and represents a stunning end to the film's central character arc.

Gorgeous model Jenny Spain plays the titular "dead girl"--a mysterious creature whose bizarre affliction we never really come to understand. Her silent performance is enigmatic and gripping--at times she's a victim, at others, a monster. It's an interesting twist on the whole, "creepy, strangely beautiful, silent female" trope that seems to be so popular in horror these days.

Another element which strengthens the film is the fine, haunting score by Joseph Bauer, which resonates throughout every scene. It reminded me very much of the excellent score for Let the Right One In, in that it's not what one would expect from a movie of this kind, and adds another layer of depth with its rich beauty. I'll be keeping an ear out for future Bauer scores.

After turning a lot of heads at film festivals this year, Deadgirl (which was completed last year), will finally be getting its theatrical release next month. For those who are constantly on the hunt for new, groundbreaking, original horror, I urge you to seek out the closest theater near you that'll be showing it. Worst case scenario, snatch up the DVD when it comes out. Taste in films is always subjective, but from my point of view as a horror fan, this is the kind of movie I tend to gravitate toward--an intelligent film free of so many of the ills plaguing the horror scene today.


Peter said...

I found DEADGIRL ultimately without any meaning, purpose or commentary. It's a shock film built for word of mouth and it also happens to be pervasively misogynistic.

INSIDE, on the other hand, doesn't gamble with a currency of emotions that do require meaning, purpose or commentary. INSIDE is a purely visceral experience and to that end it works great.

If a movie is only going to be pushing buttons, it needs to be pushing towards some kind of sequence, towards some kind of revelation. DEADGIRL does not. It pushes only to push the audience and has a supremely apathetic and despondent view of all its characters and the entire world.

B-Sol said...

I disagree. Yes, it's worldview is pessimistic and despondent--and I think that's the point. Because for the most part, people suck. I didn't find it to be specifically misogynist as much as resentful of humanity in general. But I definitely wouldn't call it a movie with nothing to say, nor would I describe Inside that way.

Peter said...

I don't want to drop much into spoiler territory for those who haven't seen it (it's currently available on Region 2 DVD, btw), but I think the largest thing that makes it misogynistic is that every single female character in the movie is a victim of their own weakness from JoAnn (victim of superficiality) to the girl at the gas station (victim of gluttony and addiction). Even the dead girl at one point shows an illogical allegiance to JT, as you pointed out in your interview, as if to say that even when women are completely brain dead they will serve their abusive male counterparts.

As the film presents the material, every female character got what was coming because they weren't more accommodating to men.

It's not enough to just say people suck, Sarmiento and Harel have got to explore that to sin is the human condition, as they repeatedly show, and if so, why that is the case. I found that the filmmakers had no comment to that end, they just sort of threw their hands up in the air and said, "Here, you all watch some fucked up imagery and talk about how fucked up it was."

I don't think the movie is completely without merit as a film. There's no questioning that it is the most challenging piece of American made horror in I don't even know how long, but it shoots to be much more a rather shameless endurance test than an examination.

B-Sol said...

I'll agree that it's the most challenging piece of American horror we've seen in a while, and perhaps you're right in that the theme of the inherent sinfulness of the human condition could've been explored more than it was. However, I was satisfied with the level of exploration here, and impressed with the boldness with which they even posed the issue.

Anonymous said...

Wow, in any regards, this sounds amazing. I wonder how historians will perceive the 2000's when everything is said and done? In my humble opinion, I will say it already has done more to advance this beloved genre of film more than any other decade.

B-Sol said...

Well, I'll always side with either the '70s or '30s in that argument, but the 2000s have certainly made their mark! Beat the crap out of the '90s, that's for sure...

Ms Harker said...

Looks like it could give Antichrist a run for its money on the wrongness scale... human depravity wise, how far will the boys go etc? I think this film could be the quality, challenging horror flick some of us have been waiting for.


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