Deadgirl

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AFI Fest

It's getting increasingly difficult to avoid films as bereft of redeeming qualities as "Deadgirl," an exploitation-horror hybrid best left to torture-porn fanboys and academics seeking to dissect the outer reaches of the contemporary young-male mindset.

While a DVD release targeting the genre market seems virtually certain, only the bravest independent distributors will consider a theatrical pickup, given the film's twisted perspective and middling execution. Or perhaps those are selling points at the right price.

Bored, outsider high school students J.T. (Noah Segan) and Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) ditch class and break into an abandoned local mental hospital just for kicks. Gleefully trashing the facility's remaining furnishings, they find their way to the basement, where they make a shocking discovery: an inert, naked young woman (Jenny Spain) wrapped in a plastic sheet and manacled to the wall.

Revulsion turns to fascination after the pair discovers that she's actually quite beautiful and still alive, although clearly near-catatonic. Her obvious distress prompts Rickie to flee, leaving J.T. behind with the woman, whom he concludes is somehow inhuman after unsuccessfully attempting to choke her to death when she tries to bite him because he gets too close. He later demonstrates his theory to Rickie by shooting the "dead girl" repeatedly without killing her and then proposes that they surreptitiously keep her captive.

While J.T. routinely rapes and abuses his half-conscious victim over the next few weeks, Rickie ineffectually frets about going to the police or even freeing the woman himself. When their secret gets out, however, the arrival of additional male predators reveals that the dead girl harbors a hazardous contagion that endangers them all.

Combining elements of zombie, slasher and teen movies, "Deadgirl" rapidly squanders its disturbing premise before settling into predictability. Writer Trent Haaga and co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel's uneven, virulently misogynistic storytelling essentially condones and even revels in their characters' violent objectification of women without offering any revealing perspectives on the young men's depravity.

Granted, horror movies thrive on transgressive scenarios, but the genre's conventions require clever and skillful tweaking to rise above crude exploitation. In this case, the filmmakers aren't up to the challenge.

Shot on HD, the production intermittently delivers on several levels, with copious gore, black humor, abundant risky sex and frequent shocks. Aside from some moderately intense splatter sequences and a steroidal sound design, it's conventionally shot and edited, with game but ineffective performances -- although a clever final twist inevitably sets up a potential sequel.

Production company: Hollywoodmade
Cast: Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Candice Accola, Eric Podnar, Jenny Spain, Andrew DiPalma.
Directors: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel.
Screenwriter: Trent Haaga.
Producers: Marcel Sarmiento, Gadi Harel.
Executive producers: Chris Webster, Rob Hickman.
Director of photography: Harris Charalambous.
Production designer: Diana Zeng.
Music: Joseph Bauer.
Costume designer: Lynh Haaga.
Editor: Phillip Blackford.
No rating, 101 minutes.


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