Zombie Watch! Part 3

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.

On this day..

2 thoughts on “Zombie Watch! Part 3

  1. Hello,

    You stated: “That Deadgirl is an indictment of the ways in which women are objectified in typical Hollywood movies.”

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call the movie itself an indictment of much of anything, except maybe being female and in the wrong high school. We may charge it with being yet another gross, distorted example of sexual objectification, but this film and its screenwriter harbor no illusions of this being intended as social commentary, nor is its message clear or worthwhile. Not speaking as a feminist but as a female who’s growing tired of this trend toward producing and popularizing twisted torture/rape scenarios.

    This film didn’t really shock me, wasn’t scary, and didn’t leave me feeling provoked to think. It just turned me off pretty much from the beginning with its cheap, sophomoric dialogue and ridiculous plot. I found no redeeming artistic value in this film and am the type capable of stomaching watching nearly anything. All this film did was further blur the lines between porn and mainstream entertainment, sick as it was. Young boys seem to love it, garnered from their reviews and responses, but I doubt many women will find it praiseworthy.

    Sorry to be blunt, but I found this film beyond stupid and pointless. Certainly not a feminist film, and I can’t imagine why women would agree it is. We can watch and analyze it through a feminist lens, but in no way is this movie meant to be feminist. The screenwriter spoke of it being based on his own dark fantasies pertaining to his own high school love interest. Nothing feminist about that.

    Here is a clip of the cast, directors, and screenwriter discussing the film after its debut: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmRpchH0SD4

  2. Hi – thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I do think that the film, perhaps despite the creator’s intentions, reveals how women, even traditional “love interests,” are objectified.

    That said, I agree that the people involved don’t seem to grasp fully the issues of objectification and in fact I find the notion that the movie is one about “boys growing up” to be disturbing given the fact that there is no moral or ethical or emotional growth of any kind taking place in the movie. That there are young men who see this movie as an exciting and sexy zombie flick about friends or growing up instead of a dark and nihilistic view of how easily women are objectified by a rape culture scares the heck out of me. My analysis of the movie is certainly colored by my own work in feminist film analysis and a critical eye toward media. I am willing to accept that I am giving the movie more credit than it deserves because I’m seeing it differently than many viewers would see it, especially young male viewers.

    That said, I still think that the movie destabilizes some of the traditional notions about romance and objectification with the Rickie/JoAnn relationship. However, hearing the cast and creators talk and make cheap jokes about the subject matter and its relationship to women’s objectification and rape does make me less inclined to see this destabilization as intentional or integral to the film’s awareness of itself.

    Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me about this movie.

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