FEARNET Movie Review: 'Girls Against Boys'


Girls Against BoysI'm always impressed when male filmmakers use the horror genre to say something interesting about women. Obviously we need more female writers, producers, and directors (a lot more) in the horror genre, but at least we can enjoy it when creative men step up and represent the female gender in frank and honest fashion. Filmmakers like Lucky McKee (May, The Woman), Paul Solet (Grace), Mitch Lichtenstein (Teeth), Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), Neil Marshall (The Descent), Richard Bates (Excision) and several others are plainly interested in how women can function within the realm of horror as heroines, anti-heroines, victims, and victimizers, which makes each new discovery sort of exciting. 

Add Austin Chick's low-key but coolly fascinating Girls Against Boys to the list of indie horror films, written and directed by men, that aspire to give young women something new to do in horror films. Veteran of the indie circuit -- he directed August in 2008 and wrote/directed XX/XY back in 2002 -- Mr. Chick may be a relative newcomer to the horror genre, but his Girls Against Boys stands as a stark,compelling, and angry indictment about the way (many? / most?) men dismiss, mistreat, and (most of all) underestimate the power of a pretty young woman. One could enjoy (and perhaps dismiss) Girls Against Boys as an indie, artsy, next-gen horror rendition of Thelma & Louise, but there's more going on beneath the surface here than just another "angry women act out" story.
It might sound like a simplistic piece of rape/revenge exploitation -- the flick is about two angry young women who wreak havoc on the various males who have mistreated them -- but, thanks to a subtly smart screenplay and two fantastic lead performances, Girls Against Boys has a lot more to say than just "girls can hurt you if you make them angry." At its most interesting moments, the movie almost feels like a gender-reversed Fight Club story. Our lead character, Shae, has been dumped, dismissed, and sexually assaulted at the end of a miserable date -- but it's her best friend Lu who kick-starts the bloodbath in such a frank and casual fashion. What begins as a story about the friendship between two angry women who have had enough gradually becomes a morality tale that feels like a tug-of-war for Shae's battered soul.
Again, the leads are excellent. Danielle Panabaker is as "girl next door" adorable as ever, but here she also brings an early vulnerability and then a dead-eyed resolve as things get truly nasty. If Ms. Panabaker's performance is the best of her young career, then the strikingly beautiful Nicole LaLiberte is the movie's secret weapon. The fair-skinned redhead man-killer is, quite simply, a lot of fun to watch. Casually amusing one moment and then shockingly cruel the next, Lu is one of the most interesting "lady psychos" to hit indie horror in quite some time. The male characters don't last all that long, but indie veteran Andrew Howard makes a strong impression as an "uncaring" male who may or may not deserve his punishment, as does the admirably dorky Liam Aiken as a sweet college kid who represents a much-needed escape for poor Shae.
Serious praise is also due to Nathan Larson's score, and while I often like to mention a decent score when it comes to indie horror films, the music in Girls Against Boys is particularly excellent. It winds through the movie's highs, lows, and very lows, and it helps to keep everything feeling just a bit off-kilter, mildly funky, and consistently ominous. It's an essential part of this slightly familiar but very welcome addition to the "don't mess with females" sub-genre. It's not only refreshing to see a movie in which women can be flatly homicidal and darkly amusing, but Girls Against Boys also manages to make a few cool points along the way, and that's what separates the exploitation films from the legitimately cool indie movies.