There is no doubt about it, Deadgirl is a very disturbing movie and one that I can’t recommend to most people. However, I am glad I watched it and I think that the movie points out some of the troubling ways that women are often objectified in movies.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me say that yes, this is a movie about a group of high school teenager’s who find a naked zombie woman and keep her to rape and mutilate. Yes, there are scenes of stomach-churning violence and sexuality. Yes, the movie is unpleasant and the characters move beyond the typical Hollywood psychotic and into the realm of truly vile. Deadgirl is not really a horror movie, but it is a horrific movie.
If you read the internet reactions, you’ll find about half of the people think that this is one of the most obscene movies they’ve ever seen and half think it’s brilliant. You’ll also find a strongly felt divide between those who think the movie actually works as a feminist text and those who think that the movie is an excuse for showing the rape and brutal objectification of women.
My take? That Deadgirl is an indictment of the ways in which women are objectified in typical Hollywood movies. The key to this indictment is not in the figure of the zombie herself, nor is it in the fact that all of the teens who actually do abuse her end up dead. The key lies in the figure of the “conflicted” male character of Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez). Rickie is the closest thing the movie has to a hero, and probably the character most likely for the viewer to identify with. The filmmakers, I believe, are aware of this and so construct a character who we can see as struggling to do the right thing. Because our options of characters to identify with are limited, he’s the best we have. Besides, he’s trying, isn’t he? Both to figure a way out of the moral conundrum he finds himself in (we are given to believe that if the woman wasn’t dead already, he would have done the right thing and helped her), and to reconnect to the love of his life, the girl who he shared his first kiss with, JoAnn.
Without going into spoilerland, let me just say that it is Rickie’s objectification of JoAnn—and thus the viewer’s objectification of JoAnn—that is central to the movie’s feminist objectives. How many times have we seen the outcast looking on as a kind, gentle, and beautiful woman dates the obnoxious jerk instead of realizing that she should be with our outcast hero? How many movies hinge on the protagonist watching the object of his affection? How many movies take it as accepted that even if the protagonist spends no time talking or spending time with the object of his affection, his love is somehow pure and honest and real rather than a figment of his own imagination and, in the end, kinda creepy?
What Deadgirl does is take just such a natural filmic construction and turn it around so that the viewer is forced to recognize that Rickie objectifies JoAnn in much the same way as the dead girl is objectified by the other characters. The difference between Rickie and J.T. is one of mis en scene and style rather than morality.
I would also add that the way the dead girl’s body is shot is not typical of Hollywood nudity and is not sensual or sexy in the least. I find it hard to believe that anyone without serious issues would find her body or the sex that happened to her body in the least arousing.
Deadgirl, no matter its agenda or how you feel about its gender politics, is a disturbing movie that will leave you with an empty, haunted feeling in your gut and a bitter taste in your mouth. Very much not a fun zombie movie.
If you have thoughts, I would really love to hear them. Either in the comments or use the contact page to get in touch and share what you think about this movie if you’ve actually watched it. More that most, this is a movie that deserves to be discussed.