Continuing with our little not-really-a-countdown-in-the-strictest-sense-but movies-that-make-good viewing-this-time-of-year-in-any-particular-order-anyway, we come to one of the more controversial indie horrors of recent years, newcomers Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s “Deadgirl” (with screenplay by Troma alum Trent Haaga).
This movie raised a lot of eyebrows (and hopefully only eyebrows) when it hit the independent and genre festival circuit this past year, and now that it’s received a (damn comprehensive, with commentary from cast and crew, an exhaustive “making-of” documentary, trailers, promo spots, and the like) DVD release from Dark Sky Films, your host gave it a look last week and found it was well worth at least a rental provided you can stomach the initial premise, which I must admit it something of a tall order.
Simply put, juvenile delinquent outcasts (think underachieving “Trench Coat Mafia” wannabes) Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and J.T. (Noah Segan) decide to do what they do best one day, namely skip school, and go fuck around in a long-abandoned mental hospital. Not the kind of thing I usually got up to when cutting class, but hey, that’s kids these days for you. Anyway, while they’re tearing around in a tunnel underneath the main building, they become would-be prety for a vicious doberman that’s on the premises for reasons that are never even close to explained (guess it just lives there) and in their desperate bid to run away from the hungry canine they come across a gig old MF’ing metal door that they figure they can open up and slam shut behind them, then wait inside whatever sort of room lies behind it until the doberman gets bored and moves on.
There’s just one problem : the door is quite literally rusted shut. To make a short story even shorter, they do of course not-so-eventually prise the door open and get away from the dog, and inside they find a crummy, damp, disused cellar-type room with a dead naked girl wrapped in plastic laying on a table inside of it. J.T., horny teenage ne’er-do-well that he is, seems rather taken with the female corpse at his disposal and decides within a couple of minutes to fuck her, dead or not. Except she’s not. Or she is. Or she—well, hell, she’s a flesh-eating zombie.
Rickie, the closest thing that passes for a conscience in the movie, is quite rightly repulsed by the whole idea and high-tails it out of there when his efforts to talk J.T. out of his stupid idea lead to a fistfight. Besides, our guy Rickie is sweet on a real-live girl who won’t give him the time of day, anyway.
J.T. quickly becomes lost in his little depraved fantasy world, skipping even more school than usual (in fact, never going), and spending all his time with his chained-up dead —ummm—“paramour.” He also shoots his mouth off about his cool (as in absolutely frigid) find to another buddy, Wheeler (Eric Podnar), and he in starts getting his rocks off in the zombie lady, as well—and then shoots his mouth off to a couple of asshole jocks at school in order to—I shit you not—try to sound like a cool dude who’s getting some pussy.
One thing leads, of course, to another, and through the jocks we learn that our zombie chick follows the classic “Romero Rules” of the living dead and passes on her infection via biting. The preppie jock asshole who gets bit is the boyfriend on the girls that Rickie likes and pretty soon she shows up in the cellar, as well, and—well, the details at this stage are pretty unimportant since it’s the basic premise itself that is the film’s real “grabber.”
Of all the rather inventive new takes on the zombie genre that have come along in recent years — another of which we’ll be getting to on this countdown when we take a look at another recent indie horror, Paul Solet’s “Grace” — I must say that a zombie as sex slave/fucktoy is one I’d certainly never considered. Which probably says that I’m more well-adjusted than I think. Let’s be honest—if the basic premise of this film doesn’t sicken you, then you’ve got some serious issues.
If you can get over the hump (no pun, dear God, intended) of the genuinely revolting basic set-up (and if you’re like me a setup that twisted literally compels you to keep watching in an effort to, at the very least, see how much you can stomach), then what we’ve really got here is a pretty well-done coming-of-age story about throwaway kids in our modern culture. Rickie seems alright enough apart from being sullen and carrying a gun around, and J.T. is the classic “bad influence,” trying to corrupt the character the audience is meant to, at least partially and reluctantly, identify with, and basically the real dramatic tension here is seeing whether or not Rickie will come over to the dark side or, if not, just how far J.T. can push him before he pushes back. So, for all that the horror community has been buzzing over “Deadgirl,” in truth underneath all the mega-controversy lies a rather standard story of a confused youth trying to find his way, albeit one that’s pretty well done.
Fernandez, for his part, turns in a standout performance as Rickie, with a sort of Joaquin Phoenix-esque “dangerous cool” tempered with a believable amount of hopeless loserability. He’s the only character who’s at all multi-dimensional and he pulls off the task of making Rickie repulsively believable quite nicely. Jenny Spain as the deadgirl herself deserves special mention for even having the guts to take the part, and given that she has two — ummm — “moods,” namely absolutely docile and absolutely rabid, I have to say she nails (sorry—really, no pun intended again) both perfectly.
The cold clinical precision of the film’s atmosphere is nicely brought to life by directors Sarmiento and Harel, and its muted color palette and the intricate simplicity of its extremely precise shot selection further adds to the dirty-yet-paradoxically-antiseptic ethos of the piece, the dichotomy of which provides a constant yet not-too-heavyhanded visual representation of Rickie’s own inner dualistic struggle.
Pretentious description? Yes, guilty as charged — but accurate nonetheless.
As for the ending—you really do see it coming. But it’s still sort of quietly tragic because you want Rickie to be better than he ends up being.And no, despite how that reads, I’m really not giving much of anything away.
One thing you won’t walk away with after seeing “Deadgirl” is much hope in America’s youth. This flick paints a relentlessly grim and way-too-accurate picture of what it means to be a young outcast in today’s society, and the “accepted” type who “fit in” come off as being even worse than the losers.
I guess what I’m saying is that ultimately, as in reality itself, there are no “good guys” in “Deadgirl.” Just tremendously flawed human beings (and a zombie sex prisoner), some of whom are less repulsive than others—and the ultimate failing of the one who seems okay is much more sobering than witnessing the outright depravity of the kid who’s just no damn good from the start.
“Deadgirl” is short on redemption but long on honesty, and for that reason, moreso than it’s shocking premise, it’s a pretty gutsy little piece of filmmaking.