INDIEFEST '09 REVIEW: "Deadgirl"

deadgirl

Frightening. That’s the best way to describe Deadgirl, an impressive effort by co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel based on an ingenious script by Trent Haaga that takes an uncomfortably harsh look at gender-sexual dominance. It’s frightening on multiple levels. It's a perennially f--ked up movie.

Yes, it’s another zombie film, but like Let the Right One In’s treatment of vampires, Deadgirl lets the horror emerge not from the ghastly ghoulies but from the dark impulses developed by the uncertainty of growing up. The premise alone is pure brilliance, but where the film takes its teenage characters to is a real revelation of both talent and the male psyche.

The Deadgirl in question is a sexy naked girl (a brave and sporting Jenny Spain) two aimless boys Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) find chained in the basement of an abandoned asylum. Realizing that she’s undead and unclaimed, JT eagerly makes her a personal sex slave, even inviting their equally idle friend Wheeler (Eric Podnar) to join in on what is essentially rape. Rickie’s refusal to participate in this debauchery is interesting, because in some ways he’s following a moral compass, but it’s also established that he is obsessively in love with a childhood sweetheart who’s grown up to be a girl out of his league. She dates a jock who torments Rickie for his longing looks. The bittersweet ending, which of course I won’t spoil, blurs Rickie’s moral line even more.

We don’t know how the Deadgirl came to be or why she was there, but that’s trivial compared to what she is in the eyes of the boys. Unlike most films that deal with teenage sexual curiosity, this film explores the really perverse side, where it’s not the discovery that drives these boys but rather the pure lustful gratification; completely skewing their perception of a healthy sex life. Knowing there’s “free pussy” to be had at any time, JT cuts off his social life, stops going to school, and even holes up in the asylum basement to have sex with the Deadgirl all day. Wheeler, having failed at standing up to jock bullies, boasts to them about the Deadgirl; somehow convinced that having a living sex doll makes him much more of a man than those who have girlfriends. Of course, it’s really screwed up that the jocks kind of buy into Wheeler’s statement and want to have a piece of the Deadgirl themselves to prove their own manhood.

In case you haven’t noticed, this film isn’t really sympathetic with us guys. It concludes that the male ego is a carriage drawn by a wild dick.

With such a provocative story, it’s a real feat on the directors’ part to keep it from being too exploitative. It’s also stylishly shot and paces itself nicely, deftly sprinkling dark humor here and there.

Ultimately, it's how convincing it is at presenting the boys that makes it such a creepy film. Deadgirl acknowledges that base urge in teenage boys to indulge in sexual conquest and the frustration that comes with being rejected by girls when you’re at your most curious about sex. It does so by stripping its protagonists of the responsibilities that young men have to learn at that age. The zombie angle works because it allows them to see the Deadgirl as something inhuman. Take away the personality and the nuisance of having to consider a woman’s feelings, what’s left for the boys to see is opportunity spread-eagled.

A teen horror movie that deals with being a teen? What a strange idea!

It’s a film that offers an original take on an exhausted genre, using a zombie as a tool to incite dangerous lust. In some ways, the zombie is still a threat, but not just physically. Deadgirl asks a difficult question: "If the victim is a flesh-eating monster, does ethics still apply?" It uses otherworldly elements to perform a horrific probe of the human experience, which is what the best horror films always do.

2009

Feb
20
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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