Do you ever wonder, when watching a particularly disturbing, twisted, sick, horrific, or cruel film, what was really going on in the mind of the writer? What kind of person could imagine such things, and what their life, their experiences must be to be capable of such truly bizarre and/or insanely repulsive creations?
If you've never wondered about the mental state of those involved with a film, chances are you've never heard of or viewed 'Deadgirl.' While the synopsis for the film alone may open the door to some serious heebie-jeebies and some bad juju, and more than a few looks of disgust, it is much like many other shock films, where the controversial aspect of the film is not the real story being told, but is the vehicle to tell it and to get it seen by a built in audience. This isn't an exploitation/torture film as much as it is a coming of age story, an analysis of many human qualities. The titular Deadgirl may be the catalyst to the story and its developments, and may be what viewers remember most about the film, but there's more to this film than just the slightly perturbed surface. It's actually a very well made, suspenseful little ditty.
'Deadgirl' is a mesh of genres, adhering to no strict conventions, leapfrogging theme and mood back and forth, refusing to be classified so simply as a horror film or teen drama. It is instead a look at the good and evil, the temptations that force different reactions, bringing out parts of people that even their best friends didn't know were there. With the very similar, yet very different friends (Shiloh Fernandez as Rickie, Noah Segan as JT) diving headfirst into depths they were unaware they could reach, their troubled, somewhat tortured lives are given new meaning when they realize they hold the power over the life of another, in a matter of speaking. As the two ditch class and go about trashing a long abandoned mental hospital, they find their way to a door that has long since been rusted shut, its contents hidden, forgotten by mankind and time itself. A nude female body (Jenny Spain), wrapped in plastic, lies bound and gagged on a table, with no warmth or capability of communication, with visible signs of decay; she'd be considered dead and prime for burial...if only she'd sit still.
There are aspects, important plot points, that may not be suited for all audiences. Needless to say, one has to have a strong stomach to get through the boundary pushing morality play that unfolds. While both young boys may be hooligans, destined to unfulfilling lives, they're both still capable of deciding what road they'll go down, and the discovery of the living corpse drives an instant wedge between the two. The rational mind would get the hell out of there, not touch anything, and call in a police report from some pay phone far away. That doesn't happen here, no matter how much Rickie wants to wash his hands of his discovery. With JT seeing an opportunity to be had, the opportunistic, dominant part of the friendship wants to take advantage of the situation that fell in front of him. He wants to let out his aggression, physical and sexual, and won't let the timid nature of his lovelorn best friend get in the way.
Watching 'Deadgirl' is like witnessing the harrowing vision of a man's psyche decaying before your very eyes, the societal norms, rules and regulations discarded one by one, in rather rapid succession. It's really quite the experience. The two main characters suddenly forced to polar opposite stances, with control and chaos constantly battling over right and wrong, the fight not having a fair ground. Like any little secret, it grows and grows, perverting itself over time, reaching new heights and extremes, and what was once a controllable situation becomes completely out of hand, impossible to predict or escape unscathed.
Trent Haaga's twisted little tale is the type of film that has plenty to say, but is at its best when words are not employed. This (very) graphic film sucks you in with its creepy, sinister vibes, as the direness of the situation grows directly alongside the knowledge of what really is going on. The violence perpetrated against the unwilling victim in it all grows, and alongside it, so does the capability for the aggressors to act similarly against their living counterparts. The constant pain and torture of the Deadgirl, also, has a way of coming full circle as well as escalating, as the primal character takes advantage of its every opportunity to fulfill its own desires, a karmic revenge, of sorts, that no participant ever envisioned.
There is quite possibly too much going on under the surface of 'Deadgirl,' with themes that unfold that may require repeat viewings to grasp how many separate undercurrents are running simultaneously. That means, of course, someone would have to watch 'Deadgirl' again, and I don't know how wise a decision that may be. This film is effective on its first go round, a mixture of message and shock that is sure to catch viewers off guard, no matter how well prepared they think they are for what they're about to witness. This is more than just a story about a zombie, or about sexual abuse. It doesn't take much reading into to see the important interpersonal relationship themes that are constantly in flux, with logic battling desire at every turn, and an ever-evolving threat, as the ugliness capable in all of us is shown without any sense of remorse.
'Deadgirl' is a film that's both horribly ugly, yet subtly spellbinding. It's a very unique evolution of very familiar cinematic themes and devices, blended in a manner that blurs the lines far more than it obliterates them. When is enough enough? How far can one take an obsession before it's not only unhealthy, but dangerous to oneself and all those around? Are the consequences for one's actions justified, no matter how extreme the retribution may be? 'Deadgirl' raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps that's why this is a film that is very difficult to forget. Or, you know, it could be the whole sex with a zombie thing. Either or.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Deadgirl' arrived on DVD a few years ago, and is ready to make a splash again, debuting on Blu-ray from Dark Sky Films on a Region A marked BD25 disc. There are three pre-menu trailers that have to be skipped manually.
There are two cuts of this film, and this disc houses one: the unrated version. There is not a significant runtime difference between versions, but the sequences of sexuality are more graphic in this prolonged cut, with some very subtle alterations that change the atmosphere of the film, as the increased graphic content shows how very willing the movie is to go as deep and dark as possible. While viewer discretion may be advised for this particular film, no matter what cut is viewed, I'd advise extreme caution on this particular edition. There is no doubt in my mind that the content contained within is beyond polarizing, and may offend.
'Deadgirl' is neither attractive nor ugly on Blu-ray, with a 1080p encode that has its moments (small as they may be), but seems locked in, in terms of potential video quality, by the filming elements.
There are constant tells throughout the film that the detail, the quality of the picture probably won't get any better than what we have here. Detail itself is hit or miss. Facial details are sharp, very lifelike in close ups, slightly subpar in midrange shots, and smoothed and without any character a bit too often for my liking. Depth jumps up and down, but is mediocre at best, while skin tones are never rosy, no matter what character or lighting situation is shown. There are some bands here and there, and some light artifacting in dark, dark shots, but to be fair, there are many, many moments where artifacting would be an absolute disaster due to the constant brooding, shadowy feature of the film, so what little there is here is much better than what it could have been. The random moments with very little detail concerned me a bit much, as there aren't enough great looking scenes, or even shots, in 'Deadgirl,' with a picture that goes from subpar to even less at times.
I think it's a fair assessment to say that 'Deadgirl' will never win high praise in the video department, but at least this particular release has very little in terms of compression issues that further hamper a viewing experience. Just set the bar low, and you'll be fine. Considering how much time is spent in a buried, long forgotten basement, a cheery, cheeky, shiny candy coated picture will never fit the aesthetic for the film.
What's surprising about this release is the audio. 'Deadgirl' hits Blu-ray with two lossless tracks (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Linear PCM 2.0), with the surround mix as the default. There are moments where the audio could have been so much more, but considering everything, the obvious budgetary constraints, the relative filmmaker inexperience, there's plenty to be happy for here.
Dialogue reproduction is the only point of concern. Spoken word never hits rear channels, has some random distortion, and a few scenes with static undertones, and doesn't have proper dynamics in regards to the fact that dialogue echoes only in the front channels, never through the room. All that said, I loved the light rear ambience, the effective, less than subtle volume spikes (that are never so much as to require dropping the dial), the otherwise effective echoes (any non-dialogue one, to be precise), and the blunt force trauma that is the bass in the track, which can come out of nowhere for entire sequences loaded with some good thump.
Yes, the hooliganism scene would have been better with more full room presence, but all things considered, this is a winning track. It's much, much more than one would have expected otherwise. It leaves room for improvement, sure, but does a noble job in keeping the viewer properly entertained.
I can't imagine the look on our wonderful editor's face when he sat down to work his magic on this review. I know I've put him through hell and back with some of the more extreme content that has been released in the last year or so, but this, this is something else. 'Deadgirl' isn't shocking in the same sense as 'A Serbian Film' (coming soon to an awesome Blu-ray collection near you), but it most certainly isn't for the weak at heart or strong in constitution. A very slow, methodical look at human nature, this film has the potential to repulse, and should not be taken lightly. This review played it safe, as any other way I could imagine delving into this content would probably prove unpublishable. You know what I just did? I just ensured that shock cinema hounds would check out this disc. This definitely is for genre fans only. You've been warned.