[Warning: Post contains mild spoilers]
Let’s face it. We live in a man’s world, where everyday, women and other minorities such as the LGBTQ community struggle to keep up with the standards and practices that many heterosexual men throughout the ages have embedded into our society. There are so many people who are powerless against the injustices in society – yet some people who are actually aware of it do nothing to fight back and change the system. This seems to be the general theme and message that the film Deadgirl (dirs. Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, 2008) revolves around.
Deadgirl seems to be a normal horror film in the beginning – one filled with teen-angst, high school tensions, and in a way, romantic themes of longing to find someone to love. But everything changes for the characters Ricky (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) as they discover the titular character. The deadgirl herself from the onset is already presented as an absurdity and anomaly to the world that the main characters reside in. Her very appearance, demeanor, and constrained freedom, already indicate that there’s something off that is about to happen. And it does, again, and again, and again, until somehow, one might be desensitized to what is happening on screen. This makes it very difficult to watch what is happening on screen, especially for those who have not seen or did not intend to see such violent acts being done to a woman as portrayed in a film.
Though it may be something that is hard to swallow on the surface level, the problems presented through this situation, which represents actual struggle in the real world, is something worth watching. Rarely do you get a film that is brave enough to portray such abuses in scenes head-on, and that is what I appreciated the most. This is because for many, rape and other forms of violence against women are merely ideas – facts that may fly by in their heads, stories that one can barely show empathy to. This may mainly be due to the pre-existing notions and judgements in society that lead to a society that does not speak out, that does not act on their actions, and ultimately lets the acts of evil win. And that is why this film needs to be something watched by audiences; with the hurt and all the cringing included in watching deadgirl be abused, whether she is alive or not, fighting back against her oppressors or not, it allows the viewer to see where he stands in this struggle, what moral code lies within him, and most importantly, how to respond to such situations.
Linked to this idea of awareness and hopefully action, are the preconceived notions of gender roles in the society that we live in. Men are generally seen to be more dominant in society – in control of the situation, of other people, and putting their feet down to make decisions (no matter how stupid they may be). But this does not apply to all men, for a certain demographic of men are undermined and considered as oppressed beings as well. Although both these ideologies about men are on different sides of the spectrum, men can still be seen as the more dominant ones, as portrayed by the characters of Rickie and JT. In the story, they are considered the Other, outcasts who have their own table in the cafeteria, or those who work on your computer problems in general. With this othering came their feeling of helplessness and powerlessness, which therefore resulted to their, mostly JT’s, abuse of power as they found deadgirl. What’s also interesting here is Rickie’s silent ‘participation’ and at the same time, his vocal opposition to the abuses. I believe that Rickie as a character is pretty weak, given his inability to truly show agency until the very last part of the film, but that is a spot-on metaphor for the ignorance that many people choose to partake in. Even if they clearly oppose to the injustices that happen, they decide not to act on it, merely avoiding it or simply being bystanders to the issue, and that says something about the type of person that you are.
Given that we’re analyzing the male perspective in the film, it is as important, if not more important, to discuss the female narrative in the film. Clearly, the women, particulary deadgirl, portrayed in the film are objectified, treated as a sex slave to fulfill the needs of the horny man. This, in turn, once again shows the othering present in many horror films. The very existence of deadgirl is shown to be absurd, and out of the ordinary, making the men so interested in her and abusing her, and that in its own way is a very powerful metaphor. In society, the woman, though she can handle the same tasks and supposedly has the same dignity and human rights, is othered – treated as absurd by the men around her. Dead or alive, may it be deadgirl or Joann, women are still being treated as objects, toys for the boys, a trophy to show the world. As Wood previously mentioned in The American Horror: Horror in the 70s, women are central to the concept of othering, and deadgirl is a prime example for that. This Other that the deadgirl becomes only goes to show that women are either objects or monsters.
But in the case of the film, it is clearly not deadgirl who is the real monster in the film – it’s JT and Rickie, and the patriarchal society we live in. It is the living humans themselves who cause harm to a seemingly harmless being, poking fun at it and sexually abusing it.
This leads to how it all relates to the concept of horror, and how applicable the truths we find out are in real life. Andrew Tudor asks the same question as Carroll before him, “why horror?,” given all the unusual and weird subject matters. He begs to ask whether we ask this question to ourselves as audience, or we wonder why horror films as a whole genre is so appealing to audience. The most significant takeaway from this reading would probably be how the question whether why one watches horror does not purely reside on the person itself or the horror genre, but to the sociocultural context that surrounds it. Tudor mentions that the appeal of specific aspects of the genre are to be understood in relation to its cultural context, further stating that:
“[Horror film is] safely distanced and stylised means of making sense of and coming to terms with phenomena and potentialities of experience which under normal (i.e. functional) conditions would be found too threatening and disturbing.” (Tudor, 20)
As mentioned earlier, this issue being tackled is very relevant to the societal injustices that we, and most especially the women suffer through today. And that is why the film serves as a bold statement – because as it portrays the tough to watch abuses happening to deadgirl from a distance, it also serves as a wake-up call for everyone who has not been able to experience such struggles in their life to apply the thought to reality. In the Philippines, where morality is king (or used to be), it is much more challenging, with all the negativity surrounding us, and the ignorance that is being exemplified by many government officials.
We are a long way from removing the abuses such as this from our society, mainly because of hundreds of years of patriarchy. But we must stay strong to fight in whatever small way that you can. Yes, we do live in a man’s world, but the real question is, how do we respond to it?
Andrew Tudor, “Why Horror? The Peculiar Pleasures of a Popular Genre.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002).