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Oh man, God love you Eben McGarr. One swing of the low-budget sledgehammer brings us back where we're supposed to be with unsafe horror. Sick Girl (not to be confused with the Masters of Horror TV movie of the same name) is every bit as sick as its name implies. Sporting a wicked mean sense of humor, so airless and dry as to make only camel spiders laugh, Sick Girl pours on the taboos with unflinching style, only to knock them down and leave you reeling with queasy delight. Not even a pair of sometimes-shaky performances - even one from headliner Leslie Andrews - can lay low this twisted tale, a true spit in the eye of all wretched, PG-13, reimagined 1970s classics stinking up the aisles lately. Sick Girl really earns its keep.
With points off the bat for a soundtrack of grimy '70s synth drones - fetid and ominous - the movie throws us into Izzy's (Andrews) world. It's not a world of normal situations; it's Izzy terrorizing Catholic schoolgirls, violating nuns, and hunting down stoners to slit their throats. Yeah, at home she deals with missing parents, an older brother fighting in Iraq, and the responsibility of raising her younger brother, your usual conflicts. She at least has the occasional help of biker/father-figure Barney, (John McGarr with the other sincere but stilted performance) but when in flashback we find her fantasizing with her older brother about raising the younger 'like their own', it's clear homicidal rage is just one of Izzy's problems.
Clocking in at about 75 minutes, Sick Girl wastes no time, lards the story with plenty of atrocities, and keeps things just light enough - barely - to keep you from blowing your brains out after watching. However, McGarr either casts a bit poorly or needs more time to learn about directing performances. Barney couldn't be stiffer, but nonetheless comes off as caring and sincere. Izzy, meanwhile, occasionally appears to be the psychopath's version of Juno - hip, squeaky and a bit too clever - but then the adorably cute moppet either coolly elucidates her philosophy on schoolyard fights (punch the throat) or goes seriously off the deep end and we're dragged back into the horror. Charlie Trepany as younger brother Kevin, however, absolutely kills as an intelligent, sensitive and wise-before-his-years kid.
On the other hand, McGarr's touch with pacing and mis-en-scene is spot-on. Rural fields and roads become modern-gothic portents of bloody doom, and simple scenes unfold with leisurely realism. As Izzy, Kevin and Barney sit around for lengthy minutes exchanging Christmas gifts, unhurried and easy familiarity makes you feel almost as if you're just returning from the kitchen with more eggnog. Or when Kevin gets on Barney's bike, the lengthy, static take shows a real, clumsy adolescent just trying to get along. These moments of guileless exposition - no MTV flash-edits, Jacob's Ladder-style blurry faces or other bits of style-before-function wankery - prove McGarr knows exactly what he wants, and how to get it. He wants your blood and spirit, and when the abductions, castrations, child murders, human Christmas Trees and other violent abominations appear, you know that even though it's all just a grindhouse lark, you've lost a little piece of your soul too.
Devastating and seriously messed-up, Sick Girl brings life back to the horror genre just in the nick of time.
A 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is nice and gritty, if not a little dark. Detail levels are OK and the image is fairly crisp, but nothing spectacular, especially for DVD (considering the excruciating exactitude of Blu-ray). Some grain is evident, and occasional minor overuse of digital noise reduction, not to mention the sometimes-murky image (full of deep blacks) that I already mentioned, but on the whole this movie fits its station video-wise - it's grubby.
Dolby Digital Stereo is decent enough to reveal deficiencies in source audio, like bits of ADR that don't quite synch up with the rest of the dialog, and room-sound that's a bit hollow and muffled. But since Sick Girl is basically neo-grindhouse, these sins are easily forgiven. The best part is the good fidelity closing credits song that's so damn catchy I not only sat through the entire credits sequence, but also hoped for some information on where to buy the soundtrack.
Touted as being 'Packed With Special Features', the DVD is a tad disingenuous. Among other things you get the Teaser Trailer and full Trailer for Sick Girl, a funny, minute-and-a-half Sick Girl Public Service Announcement, and a "death by ..." 12 minute featurette which follows lead Andrews as she philosophizes about her life and talks about her avocation of staging death scene photographs - Cindy Sherman meets Weegee. "I Want 'Em Dead" - Bloopers and Outtakes Reel burns two-plus minutes with some sub-par fun, an over-reliance on footage of a promo photo shoot, and a loud punk song, and finally a ten-minute long, artless Interview Segment with Stephen Geoffreys wraps up the extras. It's an OK sized list of short and not-terribly sweet extras.
From the stylish fonts used during credits on down, the Sick Girl movie is a quality experience. Such a conscientious attention to detail indicates serious intent, and director Eben McGarr delivers. With gut-wrenching violence, serious transgressions and an at-times whimsical attitude that sets you up for a true sucker-punch of a bleak ending holocaust, Sick Girl transcends its few weaknesses to establish a new benchmark for real horror. Devastating and seriously messed-up, Sick Girl is Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke