Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) are two seemingly average high school kids who decide to cut class one day and check out an abandoned insane asylum not too far from their average looking town. They drink some beers and decide to just generally goof off as teenagers are wont to do, but imagine their surprise when they make their way into the boiler room in the basement and find a naked woman (Jenny Spain) tied to a hospital gurney and covered in plastic. How exactly this happened is anyone's guess, as this part of the hospital has been abandoned for years and the door was sealed with years' worth of rust and dirt, but their eyes aren't playing tricks on them - this girl definitely looks to be alive.
Once the guys realize that this girl isn't dead, JT decides that they'd be crazy not to have a bit of fun with her. After all, they're alone, there's no one around for miles to catch them. Rickie isn't so keen on the idea, however. He's fine with reckless vandalism and breaking and entering but his moral code wont' let him take advantage of a women like that and so he opts out, deciding instead to head out and get the girl some help. Later one, however, JT entices Rickie back to show him something - this girl can't die and he's intent on keeping her as his own personal sex slave.
A little too scattershot for its own good in terms of plot and pacing, Deadgirl is never the less a pretty interesting picture. Mixing up somewhat typical zombie movie conventions with some well played teen angst and some unsettling psycho-sexual diversions gives the film a pretty unique stance and definitely helps it to stand out from the pack. The film does, however, suffer from some pretty intense tone shifts a few different times throughout the movie and while these are necessary for the cross-genre aspects of the picture to work, there are a couple of times where it might all leave you scratching your head just a little bit. All's well that ends well, however, and Deadgirl does do a pretty good job of tying everything up in its last fifteen minutes or so, building quite effectively to a reasonably satisfying finale.
Performance wise we are in good shape here. Shiloh Fernandez is quite good and even a little bit sympathetic in his role as Rickie, while Noah Segan apes Christian Slater as JT. Jenny Spain is stunning to look at and as such is a good choice for the part. When you consider that she is, as the title not so subtly implies, a dead girl you have to wonder if these guys aren't maybe more than just a little bit off their rockers but when you take a look at her that changes. Not that necrophilia is right, obviously, but at least they cast the part with someone attractive enough that you can suspend your disbelief a bit.
What really stands out about the film isn't the shock value component, but the more tragic side of the story. The film's take on peer pressure and on standing your own moral ground makes some sense in the context of the story but underneath all of the bizarre plot elements there is a very real and very effective human element. This helps to ground what is essentially a rather ridiculous concept in terms that the audience can actually at least partially relate to. The characters are given enough depth and their performances carry enough weight that it all works. The picture is a little long in the tooth and the middle part does drag slightly but the end result is a fairly gripping film that, once you let yourself get drawn in, proves to be pretty compelling. It's dark, it's at times fairly disturbing, and it's not at all a typical horror movie but if you're not put off by the subject matter, give this one a shot.
Deadgirl arrives on DVD in a nice 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does a pretty good job of presenting the film in a clean, clear and colorful manner. There are some minor compression artifacts noticeable in a couple of the darker scenes but aside from that, the image is pretty stable even if it's a bit soft in spots. The color scheme for the film may not blow you away but you can't fault the transfer for that, it presents the bleak looking and darker moments in just the right way ensuring that the intended look of the film remains intact. Detail levels are usually pretty good and skin tones look lifelike and natural. No issues with print damage, dirt or debris to report, and while this isn't a perfect image, it's a decent one.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound scene on the disc is quite good. Surround channels are used to build some nice atmosphere and while this is definitely a front heavy mix, rears kick in from time to time to add some welcome ambience. The front low end isn't overpowering but it's there and you'll notice it, especially a few times when the score kicks in. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and follow and the levels are nicely balanced. All in all, a nice effort from Dark Sky in this department. Optional English subtitles are included.
The extras kick off with a group commentary track that features co-directors Marcel Sarmiento and Gadi Harel, the film's composer Joseph Bauer, editor Phillip Blackford, cinematographer Harris Charalambous, writer Trent Haaga, and cast members Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan. While having this many participants in a single, screen specific chat can and does get a little over complicated in spots, it results in a track that's jam packed with plenty of information at very little dead air which more than makes up for its sometimes confusing nature. The participants cover everything that you'd want them to, from casting to where the ideas for this picture came from to what was left on the cutting room floor and why and they do it all with a decent sense of humor. Regardless of your thoughts on the film, if you're at all interested in the filmmaking process, you'll probably find this interesting and worth listening to.
Up next is The Making Of Deadgirl (7:16), a featurette that rounds up many of the same participants from the commentary and throws in actors Candice Accola and Andrew DiPalma for good measure. The co-director's get most of the screen time here and explain how this project came into being in the first place but the actors and the others get to chime in as well. It isn't as in-depth as you might want given the film's sometimes oddball subject matter but it's worth checking out.
Rounding out the extras are seven and a half minutes of mildly interesting deleted scenes (which include text intros explaining why they were chopped), a still gallery of make-up effects, the film's original trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
While not without its flaws, you've got to give Deadgirl points for trying something new in a genre that often relies far too heavily on clichés. It's not a perfect film by any stretch but it gets enough right that horror buffs really ought to broaden their horizons and give this one a shot as it's one of those rare films that defies expectations and comes as a true surprise. Dark Sky's transfer isn't as hot as it could have been but the audio is very strong as is the commentary making this one recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.