'Deadgirl' Movie Review

Deadgirl movie poster
© Dark Sky

"We could keep her." With those chilling words, the indie film Deadgirl ventures into the dark, terrifyingly real recesses of the human mind in a story that explores the social and sexual dynamics of adolescence, a story that just happens to revolve around a zombie.

The Plot

One day, teen burnouts J.T. (Noah Segan) and Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) decide to skip school and trek to an abandoned insane asylum to drink beer and raise a little hell.

 When they descend into the basement, the boys are stunned to find the body of a young woman -- nude, bound, gagged and covered in plastic. Rickie immediately suggests they leave and call the cops, but J.T. ventures further, reaching out to touch the body, which unexpectedly moves. The dead girl, it seems, isn't so dead after all.

In Rickie's mind, that's all the more reason to call the police, but J.T. hatches a plan: "We could keep her." Although the jocks, cheerleaders and other popular, attractive kids are the bane of his existence, J.T. is mesmerized by the girl's beauty, and he suggests in no uncertain terms that they could have sex with her. When Rickie balks, J.T. overpowers him.

The boys soon realize that the girl isn't quite normal. J.T., in fact, "accidentally" kills her -- only, she doesn't die. Could the dead girl be a zombie? Although the "z word" is never spoken, J.T. takes this as a sign that he's doing nothing wrong; after all, she can't be human.

He shifts his libido into full gear and turns the dead girl into an all-out sex toy.

Rickie refuses to partake, but wracked with guilt, he feels the need to act. The power struggle between the two friends spins out of control, drawing others into J.T.'s increasingly twisted and deadly scheme as the dead girl's own erratic behavior throws a monkey wrench into everyone's plans.

The End Product

Deadgirl is no doubt a polarizing experience. It's not the sort of film you want to watch multiple times and isn't something you'd enjoy watching with, well, anyone. By its own design, it's uncomfortable, pushing buttons most people keep buried deep within their subconscious. As disturbing and repugnant as it is, though, it's also thoroughly engrossing, a bleak yet fascinating character study, a zombie movie that's less about zombies than it is about humans.

The script is a master stroke for Trent Haaga, who until this time has worked in schlocky, straightforward genre material (Splatter Disco anyone?). As much Gus Van Sant as it is George Romero, the story offers a keen observation of high school life -- the social hierarchy, the peer pressure, the sexual dynamics, the cultural and economic stratification. At a time in students' lives when the crossroads of college and careers beckon, the dead girl represents a dead-end future, the easy route of going through the motions without putting forth an honest day's work. While both Rickie and J.T. are from the wrong side of the tracks, only J.T. accepts his dead-end existence. Rickie, ever hopeful, chooses to focus his affections on Joann, the (living) unrequited grade school love who's now dating a jock and has grown out of Rickie's social stratum.

J.T. feels that he has nothing to lose, but Rickie sees that he has everything to gain.

The acting from the largely unknown cast is top-notch. Segan transforms seamlessly from likable nogoodnik to perverse sociopath, while Fernandez's vulnerability sells his flawed character and makes it hard not to envision a young, sane Joaquin Phoenix. The direction from relative newcomers Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel is likewise beyond their level of experience.

Deadgirl has its flaws -- the ending seems a bit out of character, and the basement-dwelling dog doesn't serve much function narratively or symbolically -- but it's strikingly original for a genre in which originality hasn't been a strong suit of late. Despite the supernatural aspect, it's a stunningly real and insightful character study. Depending on your point of view, though, the film's depravity and sexism could be a reflection of its realism, or it could be a perverse, exploitive endorsement.

The Skinny

  • Acting: A- (Excellent, engrossing portrayals.)
  • Direction: B+ (Directed with less of a scary horror sensibility than a tense drama/thriller sensibility.)
  • Script: A- (Morbidly real and impactful with unexpected moments of humor.)
  • Gore/Effects: B (Effectively icky.)
  • Overall: B+ (Not for everyone, but those who can get past the overall offense-worthiness of the plot can relish the delicious twists, character relationships, social commentary and performances.)

    Deadgirl is directed by Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel and is not rated by the MPAA (but would certainly warrant an R). Release date: July 24, 2009.