A pair of high school students find a living dead girl in an abandoned mental hospital. No matter what they do to her, she just comes back to life. The two boys take entirely different approaches to Deadgirl. One want to free her and get her help; the other wants to take advantage of her because no one knows she exists, anyway.
Screenwriter Trent Haaga (formerly of Troma films) hits on a very interesting concept in Deadgirl. The mystery surrounding the woman abandoned in the mental hospital is compelling. The plot turns not on the actions of the two boys but the slow reveal of information about Deadgirl. It’s an interesting approach to a psychological horror film that offers a few good moments.
Unfortunately, the scenes outside of the hospital are nowhere near as compelling as the scenes with Deadgirl. They mainly center on petty teenage drama and high school movie cliches. These do nothing but detract from the novelty of the story. The expository dialogue certainly doesn’t help matters.
Perhaps with a more skilled cast of actors, this Deadgirl screenplay could come alive. It’s not that the actors do a poor job with the material; they just don’t add much edge or believability to the story. Their performances are entirely linked to the quality of the dialogue. If the lines are natural and effective, the story comes alive; if the lines are dull and stuffed with literal exposition, the story grinds to a halt.
A stronger directorial eye could have wrangled the whole film into something more compelling. Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento just come across as unsure of themselves. Camera angles are very limited and repeat themselves over and over with no connection to what’s happening onscreen. The strange room of the Deadgirl holds no mystery after its first appearance because you see it all the first time around. Every line is treated equally and no featured character is given any weight above any other. It’s like the directorial team was too timid to make any decisions beyond signing up to tell this story on film.
When Deadgirl hits a strong scene, it will blow you away. The ideas Trent Haaga comes up with are strange and new. Other films, particularly exploitation and gialli, have explored similar concepts of sexuality, violence, death, and obsession. This particular combination is potent and jarring when it hits its big moments. The quieter moments just don’t hold up by comparison.
Deadgirl is a strong and twisted psychological horror story brought down by safe choices at every turn. The only risks were taken long before filming started. Tension builds despite the editing, cast, and direction. It’s a dark, subversive horror story that deserves far better execution.
Deadgirl is streaming on Netflix. It is not to be confused with a similarly titled The Dead Girl starring Brittany Murphy (though some similar themes are broached). Have you seen it yourself? Sound off below with your thoughts.