Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Deadgirl

2008
Dir. Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel

Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) decide to bunk off school for the afternoon and go to a nearby disused psychiatric hospital to drink beer. Wandering through the labyrinthine basements beneath the hospital they eventually find a woman chained to a table. Ricky flees, leaving JT to become ‘acquainted’ with her. JT discovers the woman cannot be killed and becomes obsessed with her; while the ostracised Rickie wrestles with his conscience and attempts to somehow free the undead woman… Distressing scenes of an adult nature ensue.

‘She’s just a dead girl.’

Zombie films are rife for reinterpretation – Deadgirl makes its mark by twisting the usual conventions into a dark and sexualised fable detailing a shadowy rites of passage/coming of age drama. One of the most horrific elements of this film is its unflinching depiction of the depraved depths and immoral quagmires some people plummet to and allow themselves to wallow in. The characters depicted in Deadgirl are amongst some of the most disaffected and alienated youths outside of a Gus Van Sant film. The surprisingly sensitive screenplay by Trent Haaga delves into the morally vacuous world the two boys inhabit, and explores a murky grey area most films would only shirk from in its exploration of dark, depraved desire.

Rickie becomes the focus of the story when he begins to realise just how disturbed his friend is and we follow him as he wrestles with his conscience and attempts to ‘do the right thing.’ His ineptitude and inability to stand up to his peers, particularly the increasingly deranged JT - is often frustrating to watch, but therein the drama lies. Most people can relate to a time or situation where they felt utterly redundant and unable to go against the grain, no matter how much they think they should have.
As Rickie, Shiloh Fernandez equips himself well and provides a fitting portrayal of a troubled young man with a dark secret he’d rather not have. Fernandez exudes floppy haired angst and at times resembles a sort of Michael Pitt/Joaquin Phoenix hybrid: all doe-eyed, rawboned and sulky.

For a film about two guys who find a zombie in a basement and decide to have sex with her, Deadgirl, for the most part, is quite subtle and the filmmakers approach the darkly seedy subject matter in a serious manner posing provocative and challenging questions about morality, the objectification of women, human nonchalance and sexual anxiety. While there is no denying the often uncomfortable nature of the story, at times it is strangely poetic and evocative; simulating what could be described as The Virgin Suicides meets Nekromantik.




The film drifts along as lethargically as its protagonists and perhaps due to the somewhat tranquil pace, slowly but surely lowers the viewer into a squalid, disturbing, but oddly compelling space. We never find out anything about the titular dead girl, though JT and Rickie speculate on a number of possible explanations for her whereabouts and, erm, undeadness. When we see her, Sarmiento and Harel lens her in moody lighting that belies the starkness of her nudity and the result is immensely troubling. Taking on the unenviable position of portraying the dead girl is actress Jenny Spain, whose brave and stark performance veers between feral ferocity and baleful pathos with deceptive ease. Though she has no dialogue, Spain is still able to imbue the girl with a sense of character and history, no doubt steeped in tragedy and sorrow. Underneath the arguably exploitative aspects of the film, there is a heart, albeit a dark, morose one, pumping against all odds. Haaga’s script is thoughtful and at times even borders on what can only be described as poignancy. A touch of the fantastical emerges in the form of a Cerberus-like dog that appears to be guarding the way to the ‘underworld’ and the forbidden pleasure and desire that lays in wait there. Forays onto the surface world are usually under the cover of night; though the sun-dappled excursions prove equally as discomfiting as we are presented with a cold, unfeeling place, where the only human contact is by means of violent altercations or unrequited adoration.

Directors Sarmiento and Harel draw from a pretty sombre palette – the vast majority of the film unfolds in the eerie basement of the hospital and eventually the stifling air of bleakness becomes wholly overbearing. Lyrical interludes splice the stark drama as Rickie attempts to fathom the darkness he now finds himself in and suffers a complete crisis of conscience. A brief opening montage of empty classrooms and hallways perfectly captures the empty morality of what will follow – these characters exist in an all-too-real world, where sex is just a commodity.



The sombre tone rarely shifts – cheap laughs are nowhere to be seen – even in the couple of scenes that could be described as ‘humorous’, something dank and depressing lurks. The dreamy soundtrack courtesy of Joseph Bauer is at times pierced by a Clint Mansell-esque intensity guaranteed to conjure up an unshakable queasiness.

As events gush towards the climax, the violence escalates and the blood flows free. JT and Wheeler realise they could have stumbled onto a lucrative venture and decide to acquire more dead girls and essentially become ‘pimps’ of the undead.
The film also unflinchingly addresses a number of 'basic biology' concepts: for example if one is bitten by a zombie one may very well experience a few 'intestinal issues' – what with them becoming one of the undead and all - and the scene depicting this, is very brief, but very shocking. A clammy, morbidly romantic montage reveals a tragic, twisted and thoroughly bleak ending.

A hormonally charged and deeply upsetting tale as grotesque and twisted as the tight embrace shared by Jeffrey and Dorothy in Blue Velvet.

6 comments:

Aaron said...

James, great dissection of Deadgirl (no pun intended). I loved this movie and was pleasantly surprised by it. Speaking of being pleasantly surprised, I was shocked to learn that Haaga was responsible for a bunch of trashy Troma films and was able to turn around and write something like this.

I really have nothing to add since you pretty much nailed everything right on the head. Again, great review.

James said...

Thanks Aaron. I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed this - much more thoughtful and, dare I say it, sensitive than I imagined it would be. Haaga was responsible for a bunch of trashy Troma films!? Must keep an eye out for some of his stuff.

Thanks for stopping by - hope you are well and that hiatus you mentioned will be brief!

Wintu's World said...

Excellent review. I've been curious about this movie for a while, but haven't taken the time to watch it. It's available for "Instant Watch" on Netflix right now, though, so I'm definitely going to take advantage of that and check it out!

James said...

Hi Jennifer - thanks for stopping by. I too was curious about this - and glad I checked it out. Its much more thought provoking than I imagined it would be. Hope you enjoy it - let me know what you think. :)

Gore-Gore Girl said...

This sounds like something I couldn't (or wouldn't want to) stomach. I'm glad it has some level of social commentary, and it does sound very interesting - maybe I'll watch it one day.

Anonymous said...

Yo, Fo reealz, this is some atmospheric, moody movie! I was all like, dayum at the end! Did anyone else see that coming? A remote part of my mind said, "yeah, Ricky, handle that business", and he sho did. Dang. Good stuff.