Reel Women: ‘Girls Against Boys’ Has Nothing New (or Interesting) to Say
Austin Chick's 'Girls Against Boys' is yet another in a long line of rape/revenge thrillers, this time dressed down for listless millennials, but rather than turn in a thoughtful essay, it looks like Chick just copied from his classmates in Feminism 101.
Danielle Panabaker stars as a college student whose married, older boyfriend dumps her, prompting her to team up with an edgy girl named Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) and hit the town for a night of debauchery that ends with Panabaker's rape. But the rape train almost doesn't stop there -- when she reaches out to her ex, he almost rapes her. And when Lu takes her to the police station, male officers dismiss her rape accusation with a stack of paperwork and a shrug.
It's important to note that 'Girls Against Boys' is the kind of movie where scenes in a classroom allow the teacher to explain the theme of the film -- is the artist decrying misogynistic depictions of women, or embracing them? How about a third option, which is not posited in the film: is the artist simply acknowledging that these depictions of women exist? 'Girls Against Boys' exists as a film to prove that Austin Chick has seen rape/revenge movies, but what's the point if you have nothing new or thoughtful to bring to the table? Perhaps there just isn't anything left to say with the genre, or maybe Chick just doesn't have an opinion on the matter, which is irresponsible at worst and lazy at best.
A lot of effort goes into writing and directing a film so that the artists can successfully convey a clear vision, tone and -- often -- a message. When dabbling in the rape/revenge genre, it's not enough to show your protagonist raped and have her set off on a spree of revenge -- not when audiences have seen this scenario play out time and again, to the point where it's no longer subversive, progressive or even thought-provoking. We know by now that a heroine is raped, and rape is the most abhorrent act one can visit upon another person, and the heroine goes on a killing spree, where the rage is justified but the acts are similarly appalling. There is no winner in a rape/revenge film, and in classic examples such as 'I Spit On Your Grave,' 'Irreversible' or 'The Last House on the Left,' the audience is challenged by the idea of revenge. It's a wish-fulfillment morality play, where the audience is dared to ask themselves if they would do the same if given the opportunity (and the gall), or if they would leave matters in the hands of the justice system.
But what more is there to say? What is the point of making another rape/revenge film if it's simply a rehash of what we've seen before, with a millennial revision? If Chick's only contribution to the conversation is that which has been spoken (and spoken, and spoken) before, then it seems he has nothing to say at all, especially since his two female leads are killing men for the sake of killing men, whose only crime seems to be that they are complicit in having penises.
The aforementioned classroom scenes merely read as regurgitation of basic psychology and feminist discussion that you would, appropriately, hear in a college classroom. Even the imagery is sophomoric -- we watch Panabaker on the toilet, followed by a shot of the blood she left behind, and someone is slashed through the uterus not 20 minutes after a scene where the college professor is explaining that the word "hysterical" was derived from the Greek word for "uterus."
This isn't progressive or shocking imagery; it's not even confrontational in this day and age, when only the most juvenile of audiences would cringe at the site of vaginal blood. Perhaps if the intended audience is made up of cocky, quasi-cinephile teens with Mark Ryden coffee table books, then yeah, 'Girls Against Boys' will be enlightening. But when one of your lead characters goes into a monologue about how her daddy's friends used to rape her while her father shrugged it off until she got chlamydia at age seven, it reads like it was thought up in an armchair.
Placing the "armchair psychology" or "armchair feminist" label on 'Girls Against Boys' might be too kind, as the film isn't quite pensive enough to draw conclusions as much as it traces them from the image of past endeavors. While rape/revenge films in the past have been exploitative, they've at least had some merit in post-film discussion and introspection. They were complex -- all directed by men, where scenes of rape were voyeuristic and the intention of their depiction questionable, but the themes of revenge and morality were demanding.
Iconic images like Camille Keaton's backside with her white clothing torn as she clutches a knife in 'I Spit On Your Grave,' or Monica Bellucci walking down a red tunnel in the nauseating sequence from 'Irreversible' stick with us and resonate because those films were provocative in their own specific ways; the former was unforgiving in its graphic portrayal of rape, and the latter used daring filmmaking techniques to elaborate the disoriented, agitated state of its characters. Chick seems more concerned with the imagery itself, and not what that imagery means.