Dead Girl presents a Cabin in the Woods-esque question about monsters and their origins while pulling together character studies in the tradition of Triangle’s Jess’ descent into darkness, yet one of the most striking things about it lies in its function as a movie about the male gaze. Or is that all there is to it?
At the risk of over-intellectualizing the movie and shunting aside all the big, humanistic issues, I like to think of Dead Girl as more of a macrocosmic metaphor for the human condition, as opposed to an anthropological sort of observation on human behavior. As already mentioned by multiple sources, the women weren’t the only ones forced into rigid generalizations. The movie was patently unfair to men, as well.
There are many ways of looking at Dead Girl: as a very basic pseudo-study on human behavior (boys will be boys?), as a question of sexism/feminism and how society forms and perceives women (“it’s just like in a magazine”, “like a porno”), or even as a commentary on the differences and effects of socioeconomic norms on the consequent actions of a generation born into dead-end level strife. There is enough evidence in the movie for any of these theories to hold water. For example: while both literally and figuratively hidden away in the margins of polite society, J.T. defends his actions by asserting that the three main boys “[didn’t] have far to fall.” But the film doesn’t argue that only the lowest common denominator can be monstrous or horrifying: one need only to have a very small lack (say, a blowjob) to feel that there is a hole that needs filling
gross pun intended nor does the movie try to delude us that only women suffer from the effects of sexual objectification. These considerations have helped me conclude that there’s more to the movie than each of these individual messages. Sexism, human behavior, morality, and even social strife; these all serve as brushstrokes helping paint the picture of the greatest uncertainty in the film, which is also incidentally the most basic one: the question of enslavement and what is, exactly, human.
As a woman, I can’t leave the obvious points untouched. By turning the Dead Girl into a creature that is less-than-human, into a simple sexual object, she is enslaved not only by the chains binding her to the bed but also by the mismanaged perceptions of the boys who put themselves in charge of her fate. Even Joann couldn’t escape this, either in the way Rickie thought of her, in her actually being turned into a zombie, or even in how she was presented as a character. Or were we never supposed to think of Dead Girl as human, considering that she is technically “just” a corpse? How then does that translate to Joann, who couldn’t escape the ties that bound her to the movie’s title character?
The men share in this treatment, though not as obviously at the start. The Dead Girl struck me as a metaphor for female sexuality, at least in the way most societies today still perceive it as dangerous. In J.T.’s attempts to control her, he ends up enslaved by it, guarding it as the main driving principle in his life even as it inevitably leads to his death. In fact, the women in Dead Girl are all hazardous creatures: craving the love and attention of the idealized standard (Joann) leads to beatings in the schoolyard. Trying to force a “real” living woman to submit to their whims earns the boys humiliation and pain. Only the model-like dead girl is controllable, though ultimately the deadliest thing of all.
When speaking of identifying the familiar in horror, it’s galling to realize that the actions of J.T. and Co. reflect various psychological studies and, worse, true stories that pop up in the news once in a while. While I have no intention of generalizing the male gender, the movie does make its argument based on several observations about teenagers, specifically boys in this case; the importance of sex in their development, questions of practicality vs. morality, and peer-pressure. These things only add to the sense of discomfort that characterizes the movie.
I’m not going to say if I think it’s a good film or not, or even if I enjoyed it in any particularly sordid sort of way (for the record, I didn’t), but I will say that Dead Girl was very interesting and that it’s the sort of movie I would love to sit down and discuss in greater detail someday.