Deadgirl (2008): At Man’s Most Primal

Warning: This entry contains spoilers.

Two best friends, Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan), decide to skip a day of school to explore and wreak havoc in an abandoned mental hospital. Amidst their shenanigans, they stumble across a locked door. They break in and find a naked woman bound up in plastic, who appears to be breathing, but only barely. Despite Rickie being adamant on calling for help and freeing the woman, he is unable to counter JT, who instead, wanted to “keep” her. The Dead Girl remains shackled up inside the basement, and the two boys soon discover that the woman cannot die.

Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel’s Deadgirl is a vulgar film in itself. The characters’ words and actions exude crassness that make the movie difficult to watch at times. However, the viewers were still fascinated by the story and wanted to continue watching the movie. Or at least, that happened in my case. Other than being under the horror genre, the film can also be classified under a psychological thriller spectrum, making one reflect on how humans think and act when placed in certain situations. In Andrew Tudor’s “Why Horror? The Peculiar Pleasures of a Popular Genre,” he parallels this when he talks about what attracts people to the horror genre. He mentions the “beast within” approach, wherein horror films showcase human behavior as primal, instinctive, and animalistic at its core.1

Right from the get-go, we are introduced to two characters who seem to emulate all the normal characteristics that one usually associates with teenaged boys – at least, ones seen in the usual mainstream movies and shows. We see Rickie and JT cutting class, cursing twice in every sentence they say, smashing objects and glass, and messing up public property. It seemed as if they had no filters or limitations, since they were acting without any restraint at all – instinctual, in a way. When the Dead Girl is introduced, naked and bound up on a table, it shouldn’t have been too hard to guess what was going to be done to her, given how the boys’ characters were portrayed.

In this movie, JT represented man at his most primal state. He was someone who acted on his base desires without regard for anything else. From the very moment he saw the Dead Girl, he objectified her, viewing her only as an object to be used to satisfy his sexual needs. He never saw her as a human being. When he found out that the woman was immortal, this only amplified his objectification. He started treating her more roughly – hitting her, shooting her, digging through her skin, etc. JT didn’t consider the fact that there could be consequences to his actions, and didn’t stop to think about how the woman might have been feeling.

Tudor mentions other devices which explain people’s fascination with the horror genre, such as the narrative structure, the uncertainty of what is to come, the accompanied tension that is usually felt, and the expectations of monstrosity.2 These things are also dependent on the time periods, the societal structures, and differing cultural variations.3 A movie that someone may have found scary in the past may be deemed simply as humorous now. This is why the horror genre has to constantly keep evolving, as well.

In horror films, there is always a fascination with the monster, or what is unknown. When the Dead Girl comes into the picture, questions are raised concerning her. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she come to be like this? Like Rickie and JT, viewers are curious about the woman; although the methods of approaching the curiosity may differ. JT was curious about the woman’s body and her immortality, and wanted to push to the limits, which led to him raping the woman and eventually wanting to create more “Dead Girls” through a dastardly scheme he concocted. On the other hand, Rickie was more curious about the woman’s well-being and had set out to help free her numerous times. He was curious about her origins. He wanted to know more about the apparent monster. But as the film continued on, viewers learn that the real monster in the film was not the Dead Girl, but JT – the teenager who was psychologically messed up, to the point where he would rape a helpless tied-up woman without remorse; and even be an instigator who pushed his friends to do the same.

The movie presented sexism at its most horrendous. There was a great disbalance between the males and females in Deadgirl. The men in the movie sought to be in control of the women, and only viewed them as objects there for their pleasure. JT, Wheeler, and Johnny all forced themselves on the Dead Girl without her consent. Additionally, JT and Wheeler had planned on abducting another woman so as to turn her as well. When their original target fought back, they were surprised. It was clear that they weren’t used to the switch in gender power. Even Rickie, the main character, had his own shortcomings. He objectified his long-time crush, Joann. He wanted her to himself, and even asked her out despite her already being in a relationship with someone else. When Joann got kidnapped, he saw himself as a savior, trying to rescue her so as to win her affections. In the end, though, we see that this unhealthy obsession of love led him to take a course of action that invalidated his previous actions of speaking up and trying to save the original Dead Girl, by resorting to “keeping” Joann as his very own new Dead Girl.

This film managed to tackle sensitive issues, such as rape, sexism, and misogyny. The movie was terrifying because these topics are in fact prevalent in today’s modern world. The use of these different matters, which were seamlessly integrated into Deadgirl, caused reactions coming from from the audience, ranging from averted eyes, nervous laughter, and shocked shouts – responses that are usually partnered with tension found in horror movies.4 So while the movie may not be considered a full horror movie by some, the fact remains that it still elicits feelings of disgust and repulsion. It makes viewers think, reflect, and be disturbed.

1 Andrew Tudor, “Why Horror? The Peculiar Pleasures of a Popular Genre.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002), 48.
2 Ibid, 49-50.
3 Ibid, 54.
4 Ibid, 49.


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