Judge Patrick Bromley doesn't spit on your grave, but he does give it the squinty eyes.
Bad girls don't cry. They get even.
There are few movie viewing experiences more frustrating than watching something the starts with a ton of promise, only to see that promise slowly leak away like air from a balloon. Austin Chick's 2012 rape revenge movie Girls Against Boys is just that kind of movie.
The gorgeous Danielle Panabaker (Sky High) stars as Shae, a young New Yorker who works as a bartender and dates an older man going separated from his wife. When he breaks up with her, Shae rebounds by going out with another bartender, the wild and mysterious Lu (Nicole LaLiberte, How to Make it in America). They drink too much, they dance, they go back to the apartment of some guys. Shae is assaulted. The cops don't support her. Her ex only makes matters worse. Lu has an answer: a roaring rampage of revenge and bloody satisfaction.
The first half of Girls Against Boys, which plays out almost like a fly-on-the-wall slow burn, is incredibly compelling. Writer/director Austin Chick is good at finding all of the small ways in which the world can be hostile towards women, and Panabaker approaches her role with a kind of blankness that's difficult to get a bead on—we can understand how she becomes a victim, which is not to say she deserves it. No one does. LaLiberte is dynamic and unpredictable. There is a horrible inevitability to everything that happens, and though we know where the movie is going (mostly thanks to a flash-forward prologue that's really effective), it does nothing to diminish our sense of dread and our wish to step in and save these characters.
Then the movie morphs into a modern-day rape revenge exploitation movie, and it all spins out of control. It would be too much to expect any kind of subtlety from a movie called Girls Against Boys, and that's OK—Chick is interested in making big, brash statements more than he is in subtlety. But the structure becomes repetitive very quickly—introduce a male character, kiss him goodbye—without actually moving any of the themes forward. The movie gets stuck in one place. Even worse is the psychological component that progressively creeps its way in (involving the relationship between Lu and Shae) and undermines even the blunt messages about gender politics in the modern age. It's one thing to pay homage to I Spit on Your Grave; it's another to turn into Single White Female.
Yet there's something about the movie that remains crudely effective. In his way, Chick succeeds in making the movie he wants to make—one that unsettles you with its violence, forces you to confront its messages and worms its way into your brain. The two lead performances are consistently strong, even when the film requires them to go to places that strain credibility. Chick is a very talented filmmaker; even when the story begins to fall apart, he knows how to shoot and stage a scene for maximum effectiveness. Sure, the movie fails to deliver on its initial promise, but there's something admirable about its unwillingness to compromise, even as it covers some well-worn territory.
Girls Against Boys arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay, and it looks nothing short of incredible. The 1.78:1/1080p HD transfer, taken from the original HD video source, showcases a remarkable amount of detail and gives the movie a look that's at once slick and natural. The film's photography bounces back and forth between naturalistic and highly stylized, and the Blu-ray handles the transitions with ease. It's a great transfer. The lossless TrueHD 5.1 Surround track isn't quite as strong but it gets the job done, mostly delivering the dialogue in a straightforward way but kicking in as needed during some of the more intense or immersive sequences. The only bonus feature on the disc is a commentary by writer/director Chick and star Danielle Panabaker, who give a pretty low-key talk about the production and some of the filmmaker's intentions. It's not a waste of time, but will only be of interest to fans of the movie.
It may seem easy to write off a movie like Girls Against Boys—and I suspect a lot of critics have—but that's not really fair. The movie is an uncomfortable mixture of passionate commentary and gratuitous schlock. In that way, it recalls some of the best exploitation films of the '70s.
It think it might be not guilty.
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