Never has the term ‘gore porn’ seemed so apt as when applied to Deadgirl, Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s disgusting sexploitation shocker – a film that explores the darkest aspects of voyeurism, dominance and perversion. It’s a blood-curdling ride, which aims to address the clichés of teen cinema (coming of age, social alienation, friendships growing apart, sexual frustration etc…) through the anathematic looking glass of the abattoir.
Deadgirl starts life as a twisted bromance, opening on a duo of teenage dirtbags – the slightly awkward Rickie and incendiary JT – who cut class to go hangout in an abandoned mental hospital, drink some brews and smash shit up. Deep in the bowels of the building, the boys find a door, rusted shut after seemingly years of disuse. Inside the room they find a naked girl covered in a sheet of plastic and chained to a gurney, seemingly dead – but breathing softly.
It is an intriguing opening, mixing jaunty, almost vérité camerawork, jagged editing and the gloomy atmospherics of the derelict hospital’s dark corridors. Rickie and JT (Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan, respectively) riff off each other nicely, even if the actors seem too cool to be the geeky outcasts that the setting portrays them as, and the sense of two childhood best friends whose bond is starting to weaken is a subtle undercurrent to the dialogue.
As the film progresses, the crack between Rickie and JT starts to widen, and, after JT ropes the douchebag stoner Wheeler to be his more malleable stooge – thereby violating the boys’ ‘special secret’ – it doesn’t take long before even more horny kids are welcomed into the fold. Not unsurprisingly, the situation soon snowballs out of control…
Continuing modern horror’s obsession with the fiend within, the ‘dead girl’ – quite obviously something more but less than human – is not the monster of the piece. If anything she is the victim, subjected to constant degradation by the amoral JT, who uses her as an outlet for his necrophilia, masochism and a whole host of other grimy psychoses. Whether these tendencies are repressed or brought on by the catalyst of his power over the dead girl is unclear.
If JT represents the raging adolescent id, Rickie embodies the ego: the less primal, weaker side of their collective personality, but still highly questionable with his intentions. This Freudian triumvirate is completed by JoAnn (Candice Accola) – the girl Rickie sees as his doorway to a more stable life – who acts a moral superego.
It seems apparent that scriptwriter, B-Movie veteran Trent Haaga, has tried to craft a more complex composition through his use of this, rather nifty, allegory. However, perhaps a third male lead would have completed this more thoroughly. Deadgirl definitely suffers from a distinct lack of sympathetic lead characters. Rickie, when push comes to shove, is just a little less reprobate than JT.
Haaga has also managed to find a previously un-breached taboo to act as a hook for his screenplay (rape), while skewing the traditional innocence vs. the beast horror dynamic.
What lets the film down is its ‘film school’ feel. The second act is overlong, dragging us towards the inevitable denouncement, and gets bogged down by Rickie’s unnecessary exposition. The editor also has an unhealthy obsession with dissolves, and comes across as overeager and inexperienced.
Deadgirl is a film that aims to defy the simplistic notions of genre pigeonholing. It is a sort of bastardised hybrid of teen black comedies like Heathers, gruesome low-fi character studies like Saw and morbid erotica like Deep Throat. It may be a little rough around the edges, but the film is a mini-masterpiece, guaranteed future cult classic status. And, in an age where audiences seem near impervious to trauma, it manages a rare feat: to genuinely shock.
DVD extras are thin on the ground: a small making-of featurette, director’s commentary and an artwork stills gallery. Meagre-but-adequate, is probably a fair description.
Deadgirl is released in the UK on the 8th of June.