Talking 'Bout My 'Deadgirl' -- Film Review

Directed by: M. Sarmiento & G. Harel, Runtime: 101min
Grade: C-

Let's make this clear: Deadgirl has an abundance of imaginative force riding behind it, something thoroughly appreciated in the drooping sector of American horror. It cooks up a crazy yet believable story, offers an impressive array of refined makeup work, and consistently dabbles in thoughtfulness about the mentality of forlorn teenage men. All these facts, as well as a promising trailer reflecting on coming-of-age elements within its creepy premise, make it all the more infuriating to see the potential behind Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel's curious zombie flick fall flat due to stilted dialogue and broken logic -- creating a horror film about a pretty, well, disturbing topic that's not quite as chilling or as highbrow as it could've been.

Two high-school outcasts, J.T. (Noah Segan from Brick) and Ricky (Shiloh Fernandez), ditch school and stumble over to an abandoned insane asylum, tactfully called "the nuthouse". They do typical bent-up guy stuff like break windows and spraypaint the walls, then stumble to the lower corridors only to come to a rusted-shut door. A little jimmying open and the guys get in, but they discover a very bizarre treasure within -- a pale, rotten-smelling woman (Jenny Spain) chained down to a bed with a plastic cover draped over her otherwise naked body. As if the situation couldn't get more bizarre, the girl begins to breathe.

Sadly, perverse minds might see where this is going. Instead of reporting the discovery like all other normal people (trust me, we're not working with the cream-of-the-crop here), J.T. simply mumbles something about "keeping her" and instantly starts on with the hornball-infused dialogue about what he'll do with her. That much can be swallowed for curiosity's sake, even though Deadgirl handles it in haphazard fashion. Just put the science behind it out of mind, as dwelling too much on sexing up an older "dead" woman (read: zombie) brings up more than a few health and intelligence concerns for the baby-batter-driven guys. Of course, these are teenage guys who don't care about things like that, right?

Instead, we're asked to lay back and take the barrage of sadist masculinity pumped into Deadgirl, then, in the process, somehow find catharsis around love and lust's uncontrollable nature inside the labyrinth of the sexually-frustrated teenage mind. Since little of the horror offers real chills and none of the coming-of-age suspense really works on any deep level, Deadgirl better classifies itself as a form of undead sexploitation cinema -- yeah, really -- that pushes the necrophilia envelope in a creepy-as-hell effort to intermix youthful growing pains with horror-minded oddity. It does offer a handful of staple jump-worthy scares and a determined flow of grotesquery throughout, but its aim to be genre-free amounts to a bite-in-the-rear when it fails to find the proper pitch on any set level.

First-rate makeup for our zombie sex-slave and surprising musical scoring from Joseph Bauer dress it up nicely, along with photography by way of the same model of camera (or one exceedingly similar) used in Cloverfield, but it doesn't make up for a haphazard attention to thematic and situational detail -- leaving a gruesome slab of all-too-annoying questions and doubts amid atmosphere-driven horror. Don't even get me started on this film's horrendous grasp on tire irons and their effect on the cranial cavity, where a blow to the gut with a baseball bat knocks a guy out while a human head can take a blood-letting shot to the back of the scalp without even a flicker of lost consciousness. Creativity and cleverness can only go so far in masking gaps in logic.

It really doesn't help that we care so little for the characters in Deadgirl, an important factor for this horror / tense drama hybrid. We question Ricky's presupposed "good guy" convictions after he plainly surrenders to J.T.'s whims and offers a pinky-swear to keep this their special little secret -- something we as an audience quickly cry foul on. See, his somewhat pure heart has a soft spot for a popular red-haired girl named Johanna, so the prospect of fooling around with a chained-up piece of rotting meat locked away in an insane asylum doesn't make sense to him. But he certainly won't make an effort to stand up for how wrong it is. He's an undeniably weak character in a vile cesspool of ignorant wackjobs, crippling any attempts at dramatic poise amid this macabre erotic fixation -- and the cascade of perverted, bleak, and macabre answers to Deadgirl's provocative questioning simply isn't convincing.

Taboo and interesting, sure, but not convincing.


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