Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #241
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 6, 2008 (TIFF), July 24, 2009 (United States)
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 101 minutes
Directors: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel
Producers: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel, Brendan Davis, Cynthia Graner, Vince P. Maggio, Blue Nelson
Screenplay: Trent Haaga
Special Effects: James Ojala
Visual Effects: Didier Levy
Cinematography: Harris Charalambous
Score: Joseph Bauer
Editing: Phillip Blackford
Distributor: Dark Sky Films
Stars: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Candice Accola, Eric Podnar, Jenny Spain, Andrew DiPalma, Nolan Gerard Funk, Michael Bowen, David Alan Graf, Susan Marie Keller, Timothy Muskatell, Kelle Cantwell, Dustin Hess, Kathleen M. Darcy, Steve Dean, Christina Masterson
Suggested Audio Candy
Rob Zombie “Living Dead Girl”
In the late eighties two films surfaced which dealt with the subject of necrophilia. Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 was a tragic and poignant love story at its heart which looked at young love and its attempts to transcend death whereas Jörg Buttgereit’s Nekromantik barely had a heart and what it did have was blackened and decomposing. The latter in particular was aeons ahead of its time and audiences weren’t ready for the impact it had on them, regardless of countless video nasties deemed reprehensible. Necrophilia has understandably remained a topic deemed taboo, a quarter of a century on it is still not exactly what you would regard as dinner table conversation.
Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s directorial debut Dead Girl is a film which was always destined to polarize opinion. Repulsion is the very likely outcome for those of a weaker disposition whereas should you be intrigued by its premise, uncomfortably so one would hope, then the morally vacuous world they have created may well be for you. Little shocks Keeper nowadays, my filter has long since been removed in favor of giving any piece of art a fair crack and very little causes me to get upon my soapbox and scream exploitation. Having said that, if you handed me this and a light-hearted zombie romp, chances are Dead Girl would remain in its cellophane.
“This is the best we are ever going to have”
It tells the story of slacking teens Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) who venture into a dilapidated insane asylum and, after gaining access to a sub-basement, stumble across a naked woman (Jenny Spain) strapped down to a gurney. Seemingly flat-lined, she is actually very much animated despite appearing to have reached her expiration some time ago. The boys’ reactions are worlds apart, Timid dreamer Rickie is understandably sickened by their findings whereas JT, the dominant and less hinged alpha, has his pants round his ankles before he can so much as check her pulse.
Their differing responses to their festering find provides the driving force behind Dead Girl. Both lads come from broken homes and clearly lack that two-parent spearheaded approach as to teaching what is deemed morally acceptable. But the two are worlds apart, Rickie is utterly transfixed with his first love Joanna (Candice Accola), a fiery-haired senior who has virtually no inkling as to his existence. JT is far more assured, far more ready to court corruption and much less averse to plunging his dick into something which has exceeded its expiration. Had the sole focus been JT then the film would be in danger of alienating a little too high a percentile of its target audience. However, Rickie provides the counter-balance to his unfettered sycophant and keeps us invested.
Fernandez’s rawboned performance here will have no doubt done him no harm when Fede Alvarez was casting for Evil Dead. He is brooding, remorseful and fascinating in equal measures and provides the glue which binds this all together. Segan is also excellent, although less is required of him as his character’s trajectory is far less defined. He begins a bad egg, swiftly becomes a worse egg and spends the remainder of the picture a downright rotten one. His stone-faced quips as to where he intends to ‘stick it next’ are delivered without a hint of remorse. Nevertheless, he brings vim and pluck to the role of JT and turns Dead Girl from coming-of-age teen drama into something far less easily palatable. The decision to not pander is an astute one and love remains unrequited as it should within confines such as these.
“Sure she is some kind of monster or something, but she’s our monster”
Troma veteran Trent Haaga’s script is fairly solid and not afraid to pose some uncomfortable questions to the addressee. While JT’s actions come across a little too readily owned and his nonchalance to the atrocities he’s all too willing to undertake is a little implausible, it does open up debate for topics such as morality, sexual angst, and the objectification of women which are designed to linger long after the end credits seep away. It is strangely evocative and admirably restrained, which one feels is necessary when realizing a screenplay which, in Haaga’s own admission, was unlikely to ever get bankrolled. There are distinct parallels between this and the work of Gus Van Sant and more than a whiff of Columbine to the desolate opening which establishes the tone which permeates the film.
Although billed as horror, Dead Girl feels more like your typical American indie drama. It’s an auteur’s curates piece and remarkably lyrical without relying on dialogue to grind the gears. Harris Charalambous’ photography uses shadows to profound effect and each frame is doused in desolation echoing the moral abandonment exquisitely. The haunting score by Joseph Bauer helps modulate the tone into something ethereal and unsettling. It is the intention of the directors that we are left with numerous blank out but find it hard to do so. In many ways it bares greatest semblance to Tim Hunter’s River’s Edge and Jacob Aaron Estes’ Mean Creek than anything else and neither of those were particularly welcoming.
Dead Girl is a hard film to recommend. It’s not that it isn’t proficient in all key areas or prosperous in making its moral impact. The lion’s share of y’all may well never desire to share the experience and a barrel of fun it certainly isn’t. However, through a kit-gloved approach which sidesteps misogyny and highlights the frailty of the human condition, it manages to become relevant and affecting. The subject matter may be deeply troubling to some but film is there to inform and on occasion that’s not designed to be pretty. File under N for Not a Date Movie.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Never afraid of stark brutality, the fact remains that it knows of the thin line it walks and does so rather delicately. Plenty of grisly injury detail and gushing giblets but it is the tone which will stay with you long afterwards and an outright bloodbath may have neutered that impact.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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