Deadgirl (2008) directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel stars Shiloh Fernandez as Rickie, Noah Segan as JT, Candide Accola as Joann, and Jenny Spain as the Deadgirl.
Back in the day, when Gothic horror was less about the sexual crisis of sparkly vampires and more about the sublime and seedier side of the human condition and the morals of the age, the troubling quality of a horror tale usually lay under the surface of the gore that invariably splattered itself around the tattered surface, to shock and titillate the bourgeoisie.
Deadgirl is a little like that.
Oh, there are plenty of standard horror movie clichés in this, don’t get me wrong. The story begins when two neer-do-well friends, Ricki and JT, decide to skip school in order to go drink some beer and break stuff at a local abandoned asylum. The dialogue is completely puerile to a point where you just have to go with it, in a sort of Lord of the Flies way. It’s teenage male posturing at its grimmest and that is actually more clever than you think when the two friends find themselves in the basement after having been chased by a large black dog. The metaphor of the Black Dog is pretty much up for grabs here. In the basement they find a locked room. In the locked room they find a naked girl strapped to a bed, covered in plastic.
You see what I mean about the clichés? Don’t go into the basement. We all know about the basement. And don’t open the locked, boarded-up door. These are things of the darker id, and as such they are bound to be nasty.
What, pray tell, is the normative reaction to finding a naked girl strapped to a gurney in the basement of an abandoned asylum? For the sake of humanity at large I hope it would be Ricki’s “we have to get help” and not JT’s “let’s keep her”. But I am a horrible pair of old cynicky-boots, so, I actually don’t really have a problem with thinking that JT would get to decide.
Teen male libido translates really quickly into sexual violence here in an utterly disturbing way, which is what brings this closer to Gothic horror than anything I’ve seen in a good long while. It’s got that creeping sense of dread and the deeply disturbing quality of somehow legitimizing the repeated and unquestioned rape of the dead girl as something JT thinks is perfectly rational behaviour. I don’t know how to even begin to voice the ways in which that claws at the door of that id-in-the-basement predicament.
The objectification of the female subject here is so in the viewer's face that the object itself is literally bound and gagged and laid out to have every single unthinkable and unnameable desire acted out on it, up to and including murder, though that won’t take, which doesn’t really make anything any more palatable. JT proudly tells of his discovery that the girl can’t die, because he’s killed her three times in the course of that first attempt at raping her.
Meanwhile, Ricki, who is doing a little better, morally speaking, is still feckless and completely incapable of putting a stop to JT’s behaviour, even when JT starts bringing friends and enemies down into the basement for a taste. Ricki’s saving grace is the torch he has carried for Joann, the girl he got his first kiss from, who now runs in completely different circles in the heavily cliqued claustrophobic world of high school. That love will eventually turn out to be a bit of a Damocles sword, which is also in keeping with sublime gothic horror tradition.
There is the inevitable amount of gore in the resolution of all this, and it doesn’t exactly leave any of the key players unscathed, but I’m not going to give away the ending. I’d like to direct attention elsewhere instead, namely to how surprisingly good this movie actually is. It has its predictable parts, yes, but it succeeds in unexpected ways by creating a really uncomfortable atmosphere backed up by very solid performances, especially from Frenandez, Segan, and above all Jenny Spain, who actually does not have a single line of dialogue in the whole thing. She is riveting to watch, though, using just body language to convey a kind of primal menace and showing us a monster that has probably been created by the circumstance as much as anything else.
This is a truly repulsive exploration of the psychologically disturbing glitches in the young male libido. Just the thought of basically engaging in a slightly more wriggly form of necrophilia should be enough to set off the viewer’s nausea. It does not help that we catch JT trying to form a deeper connection with the dead girl several times, or that he propounds that “this is the best we’re ever going to get” argument with Ricki. There’s a decent into darkness here that I really didn’t expect going in to this. It is in part a coming-of-age story in some truly perverse and twisted ways. As a horror fan you will really appreciate that. If that is not your cup of Lapsang, however, I recommend you stay well clear of this one.