The Sleepless Movie Review
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Written by Trent Haaga and directed by Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel
101 Minutes
Rated R for strong aberrant sexuality, graphic nudity, bloody violence and pervasive language.

I figure it has to be my history as a filmgoer that made me largely immune to whatever shocks this film was supposed to have. Going back and reading reviews about Deadgirl after having watched it with a clean slate, it's clear the reviewers and producers (and probably the filmmakers) would have you believe this is a profoundly shocking film that's going to fuck you up along with whatever sad bastards you drag with you to see it.

Reading these reviews I'm reminded of two things: the Saw franchise, and Dead Birds. The former has much more to do with the quality of the film, but the latter expresses the mindset behind its construction. The possibility that the filmmakers are complete assholes (just like how the filmmakers of the stellar Dead Birds seemed to be jackasses making a film on a lark) is sort of secondary to the piece itself. If each of these individuals is a complete, thoroughly useless hack, then Deadgirl is proof positive that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

Deadgirl is a damn good film, the intelligence and potency of which seems to have been lost on the critics responsible for the negative reviews I've seen. Everyone bitches about how shocking and horrific and depraved the film is, but I've seen and enjoyed Takashi Miike's Visitor Q, so I'm clearly not the type that shocks or offends easily. This is good, because I can take most of the material that would bankrupt viewers with more delicate sensibilities, and what I find myself left with is a movie that suffers the same mixed blessing and curse as the better Saw films: a number of gruesome, diseased scenes that are enjoyable for the modern horror hound but may prevent a more fragile moviegoer from seeing the intelligence behind the work. It's unfortunate that the scroats who couldn't hack the film were unable to get past the teenage necrophilia and into the more complex underpinnings of the film.

The fact is, Deadgirl is the fucked up male-centric cousin of the first two Ginger Snaps films (particularly Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed). Reviews that gripe about the film's misogyny clearly missed the point by a fucking mile, and I'm trying to figure out how you're going to bitch about something the film itself very aggressively indicts. Deadgirl is a nasty male coming-of-age story, a cautionary tale about rampant social misogyny and to a lesser extent the way individuals are socialized, and the ugly characters are familiar because, be they archetypes or otherwise, we know them. When you stop to consider how males are socialized in our culture, the frightening statistics of sexual violence...I mean, we breed our boys to take what they want. Is it really so surprising that when two horny teenagers find a chained up girl in a basement of an abandoned mental hospital, the first thought of the more diseased one isn't "where did she come from?" but "she's completely at our mercy?" Who cares how this pussy got here, it's ours, let's fuck it.

I found the film utterly believable. The teenage male characters are all shortsighted fuckers, not at all uncommon if you remember high school. Not just that, but they're weak, and there's a subconscious knowledge of this weakness in each that forces them all to combat it in different ways: with physical violence, with sexual violence, with a need to be loved, with a desire to "man up." Deadgirl understands that the root of any violence - again, physical, sexual, or emotional - is a desire for power.

That understanding is what keeps the film from being truly offensive. Rape has become a pretty hot-button topic for my filmgoing associates, mostly because we're sick of seeing it used so breezily as a perverse means of titillation, or a quick button to push to get a visceral reaction out of the audience. In that context, rape is simply too easy. It's not just a sign of a morally bankrupt filmmaker, it's a sign of a creatively bankrupt one. But here, it's justified by the story, it's a logical conclusion and it speaks volumes about the characters in the film. That the victim is almost never given any real characterization is undoubtedly going to offend some viewers, but it's not really relevant. Deadgirl posits the notion of a film caring exclusively about the thought process of the rapist; the victim's experience, however important it may initially seem to be, is only going to obscure that horror.

The power dynamics going on between the male characters in the film are endlessly fascinating, but I do feel some due respect should be paid to the female "love interest" of the main protagonist. There's again a level of understanding present in the film, the knowledge that the unrepentant teenage lover is frankly fucking creepy. If Lloyd Dobler existed in the real world, he'd have been arrested. She's stupid enough to stay with her shitty boyfriend, but smart enough to at least know that her alternative is a real creeper. Grand romantic gestures to borderline strangers in real life have never worked, and thank Christ there's a movie where even after her life is saved, she's still not attracted to him. His great display of masculine power and his ability to be a protector don't alter the fundamental truth that he's kind of a teenage creeper. Creeper.

It's not surprising to see this level of grue from screenwriter Trent Haaga of Troma Entertainment fame. Yet it never feels excessive except knowingly, and the film has an extremely twisted sense of gallows humor at its core that enables it to function without becoming overwhelming or pornographic. The directors likewise seem to have a good handle on their material, and whether by choice or circumstance, their largely functional shooting style serves the film well. Showy, over-the-top, or glossy direction are exactly the kinds of things that would, again, dip Deadgirl into excess and pornography.

Ultimately, I think Deadgirl has gotten a bad rap from a lot of critics. Queasier viewers are going to want to avoid it, but the more cynical or realistic viewer is probably going to have a field day with it. Those of us who remember how sick a teenage male's mind can be, or even recognize our own potential for evil, are going to find a lot to appreciate. Deadgirl brings the seed of evil planted by cultural hyper-masculinity to the surface, lets it sprout for a little while, then violently and gleefully cuts it down. Highly recommended.

- Dustin Sklavos

All written content and colored rating system copyright Dustin Sklavos 2009. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.