Not the worst set up for a romantic night.

This is truly a far more obscure movie than Jennifer’s Body and the kind of movie I’ll be talking about more often with this feature. I literally know maybe 3 people who have seen this, at least one of whom watched it with me. I wish I could remember who that was. Anyway, what the fuck do we have here?

A zombie movie! Srsly. Quite an unconventional one, too. This movie is about two sketchy teenagers who discover an apparently undead woman strapped to a gurney inside an abandoned asylum. The two are uneasy friends. One is totally psycho (played to slimey, evil perfection by Noah Segan who owned as Dode in Brick). Once they’ve established that this girl is utterly feral, uncommunicative, and potentially immortal, they do what any randy young men would do.

They fuck her.

Well, JT does. That’s the slimey evil one I mentioned. JT and Ricky (Shilo Fernandez) are friends united by being outcasts, not because they particularly like each other. JT is an abusive prick, a psycho like I mentioned before. He’s one bad day away from totally losing it. Ricky is just kind of pathetic and lets JT’s aggression overpower him. Deadgirl becomes the focus of a thematic struggle between these two young men. Ricky is more sympathetic toward the zombie sex slave right from the get-go and repeatedly makes small attempts to stop JT from taking things too far. In short, he tries to contain a situation passive-aggressively while obsessing about his crush. Because JT is just one big crazy waiting to happen, Ricky is eventually forced to stand up. The culmination of this is an ending that is frankly awesome as a piece of ultra-cynical commentary about our motives and the lengths to which we’ll go to satisfy our basest of urges.

The zombie rules are consistent and allowed to build slowly as it dawns on the characters that whatever deadgirl has going on can be spread to others. As other people find out about her and are sucked into JT’s fucked up games, even he can’t control it. But in the end, it isn’t about controlling his little resource, but about controlling Ricky.

This is largely a movie about dehumanization and the lines we draw in terms of being able to or willing to empathize or sympathize with others. This kind of thing is dependent on how we assign personhood. There are no real philosophical discussions about whether or not deadgirl is a human being, but there are rationalizations based on her definite otherness.  Where the dehumanization comes in is more on the shoulders of the two leads, whose actions definitely dehumanize them. The audience can sympathize with deadgirl to an extent, even knowing she’s a zombie she is still a woman being raped by teenagers as well as being a corpse. There are overlapping layers of offense going on here and the effect is incredibly disconcerting.

This is, after all, a horror movie reliant more on making you distinctly uncomfortable than it is about scaring you. Nothing is played straight for shock value, making the premise and true depths of depravity that occur more than cheap and contributing to the film’s brains. The best horror movies often hold a mirror up to their audience, demanding that we review how we react to terror, violence, etc. Deadgirl isn’t very subtle about it, but it avoids being over the top and retains an intimate tone of mounting dread.

It’s definitely a movie for people with strong tolerance for fucked-up shit. It’s also the kind of movie, not unlike The Human Centipede, that people may want to watch just to scratch that itch. It deserves to be seen as something that does try to reclaim the tiredness of the zombie genre and fashion something braver out of it. When I saw it, I was like “this is how low-budget filmmakers need to do genre stuff”. We don’t need 4000 retellings of Dawn of the Dead when there are movies like Deadgirl and Fido around.