In this charming romantic comedy, our affable heroes Ricky (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) – two fine upstanding college lads – make an intriguing discovery during a field trip and learn value life lessons about the value of friendship, the innocence of youth and how the love of a good woman just plain clinches the deal.
Meanwhile, back in reality and here on The Agitation of the Mind, Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s thorny and cynical ‘Deadgirl’ concerns the edgy friendship between the moderately douchey Ricky and his full-on douchebag best bud JT, a friendship which is tested and found wanting when they cut class and head for a decaying and abandoned building that used to be a mental hospital.
Before you can say ‘Session 9: Douche Babies’, they’ve chugged some beer, tossed around some cuss words and smashed the place up a bit. Next stop: the basement. ‘Tis hear they discover the eponymous dead girl. Although ‘Undeadgirl’ would be a more appropriate title. Or even ‘Undeadnakedgirl’.
You see, our teenage twosome come across a woman (Jenny Spain) with the body of a model, the snarl of a wolf and the guttural communicative style of something Neanderthal; she’s manacled to a gurney and, of most pressing interest to JT, she’s stark naked. Deciding from the off that a naked, chained and (given the length of time the institution has been shut down) forgotten woman presents opportunities of the own-personal-sex-slave variety, JT gets in touch with his inner rapist.
The slightly more responsible Ricky reasons that they should just let her go, adding that they might go to jail if they keep her in captivity and force her into non-consensual sexual acts. Acute grasp of the law, this lad. An argument erupts and JT demonstrates a capacity for violence. Ricky slinks off, cowed, and goes back to his dead-end home life, his mom working all hours God send while his loser stepfather scrounges off them and taunts him about “acting like a man”. He tries to re-engage with his studies while carrying a torch for willowy redhead Joanne (Candice Accola), the girlfriend of jock asshole Johnny (Andrew DiPalma). But gradually he gravitates back into JT’s orbit, only to find that JT has reconfigured the asylum’s basement into a bona fide fuck pad and cut loudmouthed slacker Wheeler (Eric Podnar) in on the action.
Wheeler’s tendency to talk when he should be listening attracts the unwelcome attention of Johnny and his fellow jock asshole pal Dwyer (Nolan Gerard Funk) who insist on muscling in. They discover a morbidly transformed and dangerously purposeful JT, who eggs on Johnny to an act of fellatio. I’ll use the term “gag reflex” and leave it there. Johnny, injured right where it hurts, soon finds he has a much bigger problem than penile trauma when it becomes apparent that the dead girl is carrying some kind of infection. JT’s already disturbed mind leaps to the conclusion that he can use the now considerably-past-her-best dead girl to create other undead sex slaves.
Does it sound sickeningly exploitative, all this? The kind of thing that might send you running back to ‘Strange Circus’, ‘The Candy Snatchers’ or ‘Thriller – A Cruel Picture’ just to top up on something lighter and more life-affirming?
‘Deadgirl’, for all that it sounds like a horrible conflation of ‘Porkys’ and ‘Frankenstein Created Woman’, is pretty well-made film with some intelligence behind it and a definite and unflinching agenda. It’s about misogyny, misconceptions and how terribly easy it is to simply be complicit. JT emerges as the villain of the piece straightaway, in no small part thanks to Segan’s smirkingly convincing performance; but it’s Ricky who is proved a moral coward, a silent accomplice and, finally (SPOILER) the keeper of JT’s legacy (SPOILER ENDS).
Some scenes are truly despairing, and surprisingly they’re often the quieter, least explicit moments: JT’s heartlessly casual remarks about needing to invest in lubricant (“bone dry down there”); a picture cut from a porno mag placed over the dead girl’s face after she sustains extensive bruising; Ricky fantasizing about Joanne in a series of dreamy soft-focus tableau while he tries to put the dead girl’s ordeal at JT’s hands out of his mind; Wheeler stringing Christmas lights around the basement, presumably to create a more romantic ambience. And there’s also a scene of politically incorrect hilarity where JT and Wheeler attempt to kidnap a heftily built good-time girl only to discover that a tyre iron to the back of the head not only fails to incapacitate her, but provokes a humility ass-whupping by way of a counterattack.
It treads a fine line, does ‘Deadgirl’, and its denouement sails very close to outright melodrama. But the directors, working from a script by Trent Haaga keep the focus on character, situation and the ambiguous no-man’s-land of Ricky’s moral conflicts. The result is a film I’d be surprised if anyone enjoyed but which makes its point without pulling its punches.