“Needless to say, neither violent video games and television series nor Hollywood films and the Internet (or for that matter popular culture) cause in any direct sense real world violence and suffering, but they do not leave the real world behind either. That is too simplistic. What they do achieve is the execution of a well-funded and highly seductive public pedagogical enterprise that sexualizes and stylizes representations of violence, investing them with an intense pleasure quotient. I don't believe it is an exaggeration to claim that the violence of screen culture entertains and cleanses young people of the burden of ethical considerations when they, for instance, play video games that enabled them to ‘casually kill the simulated human beings whose world they control.’ Hollywood films such as the Saw series offer up a form of torture porn in which the spectacle of the violence enhances not merely its attraction, but offers young viewers a space where questions of ethics and responsibility are gleefully suspended, enabling them to evade their complicity in a culture of cruelty. No warnings appear on the labels of these violent videos and films, suggesting that the line between catharsis and desensitization may become blurred, making it more difficult for them to raise questions about what it means ‘to live in a society that produces, markets, and supports such products.’” – Henry A. Giroux, Living In a Culture of Cruelty
WARNING: Contains spoilers
Review Date: October 16, 2009
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 8/25/2009
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Meet Izzy (Leslie Andrews
), our young and attractive protagonist. Izzy has some serious issues, as can be seen from the opening scenes where she boards a bus full of nuns and Catholic school girls and proceeds to assault one of the holy sisters and urinate on her. Thrown off the bus, a car pulls up to her with two young men. She murders one of them with a razor blade, captures the other, and then catches up with the school bus and massacres everyone on board except for one solitary girl who she takes captive as well.
As we soon learn, Izzy’s family has been through a rough time. Her mother died and then her father passed on, leaving her and her older brother Rusty (Chris W. King
) to take care of their baby brother Kevin (Charlie Trepany
). But Rusty decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Marine Corps and is currently fighting overseas. Izzy and Kevin are looked after by Barney (John McGarr
), their late father’s best friend. When Izzy sees Barney teaching Kevin to fight she becomes dismayed – it seems that her baby brother is being terrorized by a bully and his gang. Taking matters into her own hands, she kidnaps the three boys picking on Kevin and gets ready to light up the upcoming Christmas holiday with some white hot revenge.
I sat through Synapse’s release of the abominable Header
, and was dismayed when another package from Don May arrived containing Sick Girl
. This was a film which I knew nothing about, but one look at the plot synopsis was enough to tell me that this was going to be a very similar experience. Sick Girl
is actually more competently made than Header
, but is no less depraved or devoid of artistic merit. It is one of the most cynical and despicable movies that I have ever seen.
My sneaking suspicion is that Sick Girl
came into existence primarily to serve as a calling card for writer/director Eben McGarr and his future endeavors as a filmmaker, and the cynicism of his approach is truly insulting. McGarr, a first time director, seems to have concluded that he needed to make a really big splash with his debut feature, but only saw himself as having limited options. He could have tried to make the film scary. Really scary. But making a film that’s genuinely scary is not easy at all, and perhaps McGarr, realizing this, chose instead to go for the shock value, which is much easier to accomplish. And shock is what we get. Not only is a nun is urinated on, but a nine year-old boy has his face eaten by a rat, another nine year-old puts a gun to his head and commits suicide, and a teenage boy has his penis cut off, which is then mounted on a spike by Izzy and used to rape a teenage girl.
As it turns out, the root of Izzy’s violent behavior relates back to her older brother, who she had incestuous feelings for. Periodically throughout the movie Kevin complains that Rusty always calls when he is at school or out, and that he hasn’t spoken to him in a year. In the final scene of Sick Girl
we find out why, as Izzy remembers in flashback how two Marines came to the front door one day to inform her that her brother had been killed. As she was the only one home when the news came she kept it secret from everyone else. This is every bit as clichéd as it is illogical. Based on this ending I am led to conclude that McGarr has probably not picked up a newspaper since the end of 2001. Although the exact cause of how U.S. service members in Iraq and Afghanistan perish is not always revealed (the Pentagon likes to break them down to euphemisms like died “from wounds suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces while conducting combat operations in Central Iraq” – this is an actual quote from one of their press releases), the names of the dead themselves are public record printed in major publications. Local newspapers usually run front page stories when local soldiers are killed, and such fatalities are always reported on local TV news broadcasts. It seems unlikely that the news of Rusty’s death would not have gotten back to the other characters, and we can presume that, having just subjected us to seventy-five minutes of depravity, Eben McGarr is trying to get himself off the hook with a bit of fleeting social commentary.
For a viewer who has been watching horror films for twenty of his twenty-six years, even I could not help but to find Sick Girl
morally repugnant. If we as twenty-first century individuals believe that free expression is an integral part of our society then even a movie such as this has a right to exist. But is there any point to its existence, other than to give its director some choice clips for his reel? Does it entertain? Does it inform? Does it enlighten? Does it push the boundaries of the medium or does it take the genre in new directions? The answer to all of these is no. Sick Girl
does not raise tough moral questions about revenge like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left
. It lacks the violent, good natured sense of fun found in a Friday the 13th
or Nightmare on Elm Street
movie. It lacks the visual and aural beauty of an Argento film and the enchanting atmosphere of dread and nightmare that is found in the best works of Lucio Fulci.
Yes, I know, some of you probably expected me to praise this shit, to call it “intelligent”, “thought provoking” and praise it for “pushing the limits”. Well, I won’t do any of that because in truth the only thought this provoked in me was the thought that I should clear my mind of this tripe by watching a real film. The worst part is that, based on the evidence on display here, Eben McGarr is a genuinely talented emerging filmmaker, someone who seems to understand how to use lighting, editing, sound (and silence) to great effect. He has a good understanding of all the tools needed to make great cinema, and he squanders them all on Sick Girl
The film is presented letterboxed at 1.78:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 displays. Sick Girl
was shot digitally and the transfer looks decent considering its low budget origins. Eben McGarr gives the movie a stark and bleak appearance, using high contrast and washed out colors, which this disc handles admirably with Synapse’s always high standards of encoding. There is some minor video noise and some blurriness here and there, but overall the image looks sharp and very well defined.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo, and shows the limits of sound recording when shooting on location with limited resources. There is no significant background noise to be heard, but some of the sound recording either has a muffled or tinny sound to it.
Thankfully we have been spared the indignity of a commentary track, although there are a number of extras. The most amusing perhaps is a mock PSA (public service announcement) showing Izzy, wearing one of her outfits from the movie, attending a screening of Night of the Living Dead
full of crying babies and people texting on their cell phones. Finally she has enough of the disrespectful behavior and starts killing people.
Star Leslie Andrews is also featured in a short documentary called Death By...
that profiles her and her odd penchant for photographing herself in deathlike positions, complete with gory make-up (I guess everyone needs a hobby). Andrews talks about her childhood and her feelings about acting, and we get to see her strike many different death poses. She seems like a nice enough woman with an unusual fascination. Andrews is also on hand for about two and a half minutes of bloopers and outtakes, set to music.
The final extra of note is a ten-minute interview with actor Stephen Geoffreys (Fright Night
) who has a very small part in the film as a teacher whose pet rat is stolen. Geoffreys is quite interesting in this otherwise badly shot, badly edited interview. He barely talks about Sick Girl
and spends almost the entire piece discussing his role as Evil Ed in Fright Night
, which I frankly prefer to hear about anyways. Geoffreys really hasn’t had much of a career in legitimate film since his success in the eighties was followed by a string of direct to video pornography titles beginning in 1991 and continuing for over a decade.
Finally there is a teaser trailer and a full length trailer.
Giving support to my theory that Sick Girl
exists to establish Eben McGarr’s commercial credentials, I have discovered that his next film – apparently now completed but not signed with a distributor – is a black and white homage to the Universal monsters films called House of the Wolf Man
. In other words, it couldn’t be more different from this junk and hopefully it will be better. Synapse has given Sick Girl
a good release with above average video, audio and supplemental material. Personally I don’t think that the film deserves the kind of effort and attention that Don and Jerry have given it, but there’s no arguing with their work.
Movie – F
Image Quality – B
Sound – B
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 19 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby 2.0 Stereo
- Death By... featurette
- Sick Girl PSA
- Bloopers and outtakes
- Interview with Stephen Geoffreys