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Friday, July 17, 2009

DEADGIRL -- movie review by porfle

Recently I watched another coming-of-age film called "Bart Got a Room", which might be thought of as the happy flipside to today's very different coming-of-age story, DEADGIRL (2008).

 In this one, two high school misfits named Rickie and J.T. get a room too, only instead of being in a posh hotel it's in the dark basement of an abandoned mental institution, and instead of finding prom dates, they find a naked living-dead girl wrapped in plastic and strapped to a lab table.

Needless to say, this isn't your father's Archie and Jughead. While Rickie (the soulful Shiloh Fernandez, who reminds me of a pre-nutso Joaquin Phoenix) is disturbed by their discovery and wants to report it to somebody, the considerably flakier J.T. (Noah Segan) quickly sees Deadgirl as their own animated RealDoll.

Before long he's as paranoid and possessive as Fred C. Dobbs and acting out his twisted adolescent urges with the undying corpse. In one startling scene, he proves to Rickie that she can't die by firing several bullets into her torso with no effect. Rickie is repulsed but intimidated into silence by the increasingly unbalanced J.T. Eventually others are brought in on the sick setup, with varying horrific consequences.

In a way, DEADGIRL reminded me of "The River's Edge", a fact-based story of some disaffected high school kids who find a murdered girl's body in the weeds and bring their friends out to gawk at her instead of doing anything about it. Here, however, we go way beyond merely "disaffected" and into full-blown "deranged."

Many viewers will no doubt find it difficult to endure scenes of J.T. and his pathetic toady Wheeler (Eric Podnar) taking turns with the increasingly worse-for-wear Deadgirl as her chilling visage contorts, her eyes rolling and leering in their sockets. Equally repellent is the sight of J.T. poking at her pus-oozing bulletholes as he giddily marvels at her inability to die.

While J.T. has found the ghoul of his nightmares, Rickie still pines for the beautiful and unattainable popular girl Joann (Candice Accola), who, as J.T. points out with brutal frankness, would rather die than be with him. She'll eventually have to make that choice.

Her bullying jock boyfriend Johnny (Andrew DiPalma) and his equally sadistic sidekick Dwyer (Nolan Gerard Funk) also get drawn into the situation, culminating in some of the film's most ghastly and nerve-wracking images. Even tied up, Deadgirl is dangerous, because when you least expect it, she bites. And the bites get...infected. What happens to one hapless lad in particular is, for me anyway, quite a jaw-dropper.

I wasn't altogether satisfied by the ending, although I suppose there was a kind of resigned inevitability to it. The leads play their parts convincingly--Segan is especially effective as the downwardly spiralling J.T., and Michael Bowen, who was "Buck" in KILL BILL VOL. 1, is one of the best character actors working today.

Best of all, Jenny Spain's Deadgirl is a truly strange and frightening creation. The combination of the right makeup and her cunningly controlled performance, along with the imaginative direction of Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, makes Deadgirl a memorable movie "monster." You're never quite sure what's going through her fevered mind and can't wait to find out what will happen when she gets loose from her bonds. Which she eventually does, of course.

DEADGIRL is not to be confused with the similarly-titled 2006 film "The Dead Girl." That was a thoughtful, bittersweet account of the affect that one girl's murder has on the lives of several people who are connected with her in one way or another. This, on the other hand, is a pitch dark, full-blown horror flick that sets out to disgust and disturb and succeeds by being one of the most deviously over-the-top cinematic fever dreams of recent years. As for Deadgirl herself, she is both loathesome and sympathetic, repellant yet compelling, horrific yet oddly heroic--and altogether fascinating.

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