Girls Against Boys is another revenge drama, though following a somewhat different path than most, and quite muted in its way. Technically, it's near perfect, but this perhaps contributes to the fact that the tale itself seems a bit anemic.
Shae (Danielle Panabaker) is having a bit of a bad weekend. Her married boyfriend Terry (Andrew Howard) has just dumped her to go back to his wife. When she goes out on the town with new friend Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), they have a few drinks, dance a few dances, and meet a few nice seeming boys. Later that night, one of those nice boys sexually assaults Shae in the hallway outside of her apartment. And no one seems to care. Her mother can't tear away from meetings and business long enough to hear about her daughter's troubles. The police are nonchalant, bored and suspicious. Terry just sees her request for help as an invitation to have a little casual sex. The only one who listens is Lu, who declares that Shae will have to get her own justice.
And that's where the meat of the film begins. At Lu's urging, she and Shae track down the man who raped her, starting with his two friends. They have no compunction about killing anyone who might hamper their search, even relatively innocent folks such as the two friends, who presumably don't know about the sexual assault. The two young women make their bloody way through New York City, exacting their revenge on all and sundry, until Shae finally becomes disgusted with the violence. But, of course, it isn't really over yet.
There's little but praise to give to the lead actors, Panabaker and LaLiberte. Panabaker is perfect as the fragile and wounded young woman, thrown into confusion and incomprehensible pain by the injuries done to her. LaLiberte has the alternately glazed look and feral intensity of a woman always one small step away from violence. Both are able to instill nuance and subtlety into their characters, and make them seem quite real, despite the inherent feel of unreality (and sometimes implausibility) of their situation. They are helped along the way with a raft of supporting actors who likewise never miss a beat. The film also looks quite good. It's crisp and bright and slick. The blood effects are professional and impressive. The score is deft and doesn't overpower, and the featured songs are appropriate and greatly enhance the intended mood.
But all this perfection and slick production undercuts the establishment of the chaotic and disturbing universe which Shae and Lu need to inhabit in order for the audience to accept what they are doing. And the fine performances notwithstanding, the film lacks the impact it could have had. Firstly, there is no one that the audience can empathize with. Everyone is more or less morally compromised, including our heroine, who eventually grows tired of killing, but not until a few people who have done nothing worse than be rude or emotionally cruel are dead. But it doesn't seem that this happens to make us think or to add complexity or thoughtfulness to the character. These people seem to live in a nihilist reality in which the killings have neither legal, emotional, nor psychological consequences. Not significant consequences, anyway. Shae breaks down in tears at one point, and Lu comforts her, but it doesn't seem to dampen their friendship or cause her to regret her actions. She goes on a scooter ride with a new beau the very next day.
And perhaps Austin Chick is trying to say something about the world here. This possibility is strengthened when he attempts a Takashi Miike-esque ending (such as in Violent Fire or Dead or Alive), which subverts the story we've just seen and makes us question what really happened. But these hints are too subtle and opaque to really mean anything to the viewer. They defy easy unraveling, and only leave us confused.
Regardless of all this, Girls Against Boys is an interesting and well executed film. It has flaws, but it holds the attention and has something to say, even if what it's trying to say is sometimes unclear. Recommended.