Whilst driven by a strong female lead and an absorbing, slow plot, Girls Can't Swim suffers from lazy direction at times, with some scenes overtly long that serves as distraction from an otherwise engrossing story.
The dramatic and sexual tension between the two friends was built well only to be thrown away abruptly, leading to a shocking, if not slightly unsatisfactory ending. Despite this, the film manages to capture the viewer with a slew of emotional moments that are stringed together, on the most part, smoothly and efficiently. One feels with better focus, and more elaboration of the more crucial scenes, this could have been a great French drama.
For a general film fan to read about this film in passing, it would be very easy to simply pass this film off as yet another American 'torture porn' flick, another attempted cash in at the recent re-emergence of the exploitation film in the underground and mainstream circuits.
Deadgirl is anything but this. Bursting onto the screen, we follow two bored teenagers looking for a kick in their mundane daily life. They decide to explore an abandoned mental asylum, whilst drinking, and in general smashing whatever they find. It is territory tread many times before, the archetype of the suburban American teenager gripped in an unbearable ennui from the tedious and seemingly pointless affairs of the school life, which is sparked by an event that leads to horrifying affairs. And, it is this generic set up which is part of deadgirl's charm, it has a subtle wit to it that probes itself under the juxtaposing abruptness of the later scenes, the shock of what we see on screen later flows with the subtle psychological profiling and exploration that we see grow to an impressive, and broad spectrum.
As the two teenagers find themselves chased by a guard dog into the metallic and dirty underbelly of the asylum, we find ourselves slowly ebbing away from society, moving towards a state of nature in which laws created by the boys apply, the final plunge into the room and its prize takes us to the moral dilemma of the entire film: the deadgirl.
Here we see the characters explode in depth, gone are stock stereotype and characters for storyline sake. No, instead we have a extremely morbid man played by the impressive Noah Segan. He is the instigator, the character who allows himself to accept this room and its contents outside the constraints and rules of society, here in the surreal nature involving the deadgirl, he makes his own opinions, he surrenders to his own dark subconscious, allows the anima to flow out and absorb all it can take; first feral rage, and then the lust of taking - forceful sex.
And while all this occurs we have our protagonist, the man we follow throughout the film, Ricky. Ricky is an interesting character as, throughout the film, he is torn between doing the right thing and taking what could be his, trying to accept the impossible as possible, and in doing so must accept the impossibility of what might happen if he leaves JT (Segan) to his own devices. Slowly, as we follow Ricky back into the social world of normality as he attempts to return to his banal lifestyle, we see JT more and more obsessed with the deadgirl. Soon it has completely overtaken him, he sees her as his property, he is attached to her on a higher level, he sees her as bound in a social contract with him; he owns her, and Ricky is a hindrance.
It is this tactful portrayal of the human psyche at work, the psychological profiling of the two main characters that runs alongside the gritty scenes, the shock moments, that make this film effective. Shocking for shock sake is ineffective and boring, always seen through and brushed away with cynicism (see hostel 2). However, it is through the slow escalation, the brooding atmosphere as the film gets grainier and the characters get paler, obviously effected by their experiences that make the shock moments so much more uncomfortable, so much more intensified. During the showing, many people in my audience were constantly laughing, not at the darkly comical moments, as there were a few, but it was a nervous laugh, an artificial laugh - one that covered the fact that were didn't know how to act or what to do as the film was indeed bothering them and they were not entirely sure why so (my guess anyway)
Despite all these things, the film manages to stay afloat and avoid drowning in self indulgent artistic schlock. I feel the director and writer wanted to make it abundantly clear that this was more than jst your simple horror film with edgy and risque content, but didn't oversell the cleverness of the piece. It is all too easy for a film to go overboard on the messages, to double check that you indeed understand that this is more than just a one-dimensional film. Here we have all the elements of a strong story, but also dabbles in the supernatural, the fantasy, and indeed science fiction. And in these genre hops is its genius. Where things are usually explained in an infodump, we have nothing. By the time the ending rolls we are left to make up our own mind of the overall story, yet through I found myself pondering the characters more than the final events, curious as to what I felt and if I was satisfied with the conclusion.
Deadgirl is a dark horse in the US horror scene. Slated by numerous critics who may have seen this only on the superficial level as something intended to shock, a teen cash in on the violence and nudity front, the film is deeply probing into not only the psychology of its characters, but of us, the viewers. It makes you think of what you would do in the situation, the empathy you feel for characters that could never have sympathy bestowed on them. It also has one of the best romances in film history imo, that is, the portrayal of the romance, of what you expect to happen and what does happen.
Ricky and JT are perhaps two of the most explored teen horror characters in recent history, and it is this perfect blend of horror and story that makes the film so effective, makes it so claustrophobic and nauseous.
Deadgirl rises above the line of your typical horror and then some. It is a brooding, dark piece that covers controversial subject matter, and handles it in a surprisingly complex, and clever way. Released in the USA during 2009, I recommend anyone who is into their horror to go watch this with an open mind, and see how they feel about it. I personally, would love to see this again, to find out if I pick up on anything I may have missed on a first viewing.
Rarely does a film manage to anger me in such a myriad of ways as Eden Lake did.
The film's premise is that of a couple spending a romantic weekend at a disused quarry before it is built over for apartments. Whilst enjoying the sites of the beautiful Eden lake, which is situated in the middle of a forest, they run into a gang of loutish youths (the chav phenomenon of Britain). This is where the film truly begins.
What begins as thuggish behaviour, slowly escalates into the couple being more and more pushed by the kids until the crescendo is reached and the couples car is stolen (by the kids, as seen in a later scene.) Our 'protagonist' asks for his keys back as the kids, amused, profess innocence. As the intensity increases, knifes are suddenly pulled out and during a struggle, the groups dog is accidentally killed. Thus starts an extreme, horrific, and infuriating ride that is Eden Lake.
I said at the start that this film enraged me, and to begin with it was for all the wrong reasons. Yet again, I thought I was about to endure a stereotypical classification of young chavs as poor, stupid, and one track minded - thugs of society that have no respect for anything. And to begin with this is what we get, a classic case of the good vs evil, an innocent couple plagued by a younger generation with no morals.
And then then the film flips itself around with a monumental scene following the aftermath of the dogs death. Before, the group were all enraged by this act against them during the night, but then as the camera follows the girlfriend towards noise in the coming day, we see Steve tied up, beaten severely and bleeding profusely. The scene that follows is impeccably done, just enough realistic, cold barbarity with reason as the leader forces the doubters into cutting the man so that they are all 'in on it' - a horrifying extremity of the weapon that is peer pressure, all whilst being videoed by the girl of the group. It is here that the characters come to life, the ones that follow the larger, goaded in by acceptance into a group, ones that do not mind laughing when nothing is at stake but humiliation. However, once the reality of excessive force is shoved in their face, and the situation is starting to unfold into an all too real nightmare, their morality comes calling and the plead to take it no further, here we see the main thug (played very well by the young actor) for what he is, a 'headcase' as one of his friends puts it.
Yet, this glimmer of rationality dissipates, and they fold to fear and act, cutting the innocent man that lies before them where the others have done so before them. Then starts the chase of the girlfriend. The cinematography is stunning, the level of grime upon the character of Jenny growing as the darkness of the film broods.
Up until this point, we still have the good vs evil, the plagued woman trying to escape her brutal assailants, and this is where the genius of the film escalates with a simple yet harrowing scene. She breaks the glass of a nature reserve stand in order to retrieve a map, sees the glass and, after hesitating, rips some of her dress off to wrap around the slither of glass - a weapon has been made. On comes one of the younger boys that was so hesitant before, egged on by the older and stronger. He approaches cautiously, and with the look in his eyes it is apparent he wishes her to escape so the nightmare can be over for him just as much her. She whips round and stabs him straight in the neck, a shocking scene as she has become the feral monsters she tried to escape from, eye for an eye, revenge being the only driving factor. Slowly it dawns on her what she done to the young boy and he slowly dies in her arms as she screams in horror of what she has become, what she feels she was pushed to do.
THIS is where the real conflict and message of the films is placed for me. Do we act on revenge? Is an eye for an eye a motto to live by, and is that acceptable? She aimed for the neck, she aimed to kill, and in the aftermath, we find ourselves feeling sympathy for the dead child, an innocent victim of youth culture. Or is he? Along with another child that dies later on, are these children truly innocent? They did wish it to escalate yet they did nothing, they protested meekly but did not stand up as a group, they did not have the courage to realise what was right. Later, the girl who videoed everything runs away, she has had enough. Jenny sees her in the road, hit the accelerator and mows her down with no sympathy.
The brutal moments gives us time to reflect on where the line of 'what is right' ends. Even if Jenny told the police all of what happened, and somehow evidence was provided, would the police be able to prosecute those so young? Is death the punishment that should be inflicted on those that killed no matter what their age? For me, this deeply loaded question provides the films brilliance, one that adheres to more than simple sequence writing, and mindless characters. This is a film that highlights and is commenting on the the worrying state of todays troubled British youth, and how often it only takes one to start off a chain of events which escalates out of control. Yes, this situation is an extremity, but it is not too far-fetched, you only need to take a glance at the amount of youth stabbings in the last year to realise this.
Perhaps the films is so powerful because of its stark reality. There is no boogeyman, alien, or ghost here - these are children, children tainted by those with troubles (end of the film hints at why, brilliant) and it is in that horrific plausibility, that we find the truly gripping and infuriating anger at the injustice of it all.
Stark, brutal, and harrowing stuff.
A well thought out idea with some truly genius scenes. However, the delivery is rather is about as subtle as the Marine, and, despite the race reversal, still adheres to stock stereotype....just in reverse