Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review: GirlHouse

by Patrick Bromley
Because what Black Christmas forgot was all the web cam porn.

I had high hopes for Trevor Matthews. The son of a Canadian telecommunications billionaire, Matthews announced himself on the horror scene when he starred in 2007's Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, a fun '80s throwback packed with practical makeup effects and an appealing underdog spirit. By 2010, he had graduated to producer and writer, penning the screenplay for (and playing a small role in) The Shrine, a more ambitious and problematic movie that doesn't really work. Now Matthews has taken the full leap to directing his first feature, GirlHouse, about one of those houses wired for 24-hour-a-day webcam viewing (where subscribers can see girls showering, working out, sleeping, having sex, whatever) that comes under attack by a masked killer (played by Boston rapper Slaine) bent on slaughtering everyone inside.
Why is this guy brutally murdering webcam girls? What does he have against women, you ask? Well, when he was a kid a girl laughed at the size of his penis. We know this because the movie opens with that scene. A little girl tricks him into pulling his pants down and then mocks the size of his dick. Don't worry -- moments later we see her leg broken (in graphic detail!) and her body tossed off a bridge. Take that, 12-year old girls everywhere. Also, girls made him a murderer. Of more girls.

GirlHouse is full of sinister hypocrisies like that one. It's what separates it from those films from which it clearly draws inspiration -- movies like HalloweenSlumber Party Massacre and the aforementioned Black Christmas. Making a film about a killer stalking women is hardly new; neither is putting them all in the same house. Maybe it's the addition of internet porn that makes GirlHouse so insidious, as it seems to lay the blame at the feet of the victims. When a character survives a traumatic event and news crews show up to interview her, she immediately requests "no cameras." Because the cameras were the problem, not the psychopath. Wait -- you say that if not for the webcams and the GirlHouse, the psychopath would not have had a window into her life? He would not have become obsessed with her in the first place nor known when and where to find her? Because making that leap is akin to saying "she was asking for it." Is that what the movie is saying?
Another scene finds one of the girls -- the de factor "star" of the house -- begging to be killed after being disfigured. It's the same thing we saw (heard about) in Se7en, only in that movie it was part of the point: the victim's "sin" was pride, and she chose suicide rather than living life as anything less than beautiful. In GirlHouse, no such larger point is being examined. It's just a girl who would rather die than not be hot. Like almost every character in the movie, she is reduced to only her physical appearance -- and, by extension, her function as a sex object for male gratification (the only gay females we see in the movie are putting on a "show" for the webcam). In the world of GirlHouse, if a woman isn't going to be hot she might as well be dead. Actually, if she is hot she needs to die, too, because it's not fair to men that a woman be hot and not fuck them. This movie left me confused and angry.

Making matters that much more frustrating is the fact that Girlhouse is a well-made movie. It's technically impressive -- handsomely shot and sharply edited. The girls are all very beautiful and better actors than the run-of-the-mill slasher would suggest. Final Girl Ali Cobrin is very appealing in the lead even if a part has not been written for her (at one point she's asked on a date to go see Rear Window because VOYEURISM DO YOU GET IT?). The mask that Killer Rapper wears is upsetting, but that's mostly because it's right out of Tourist Trap. I don't necessarily think the filmmakers set out to make something as ugly and misogynist as the movie ended up being. If I give them the benefit of the doubt, I'm sure they wanted to find a way to update something like Slumber Party Massacre for the digital age. The ugliness is just a byproduct of them not thinking through the messages that their movie might be sending.
But ugly it is. Between this and last year's Lucky Bastard, there's a mini-trend in horror that seems to blame porn for creating killers. As someone with zero allegiance to porn, that's very shitty. Female sexuality has been at the heart of so many horror movies that to make it this explicit means a greater responsibility on the part of the filmmakers to destroy the legacy of so many girls being cut up in their underwear. It's 2015. This shit will not fly anymore.

9 comments:

  1. "I don't necessarily think the filmmakers set out to make something as ugly and misogynist as the movie ended up being. If I give them the benefit of the doubt, I'm sure they wanted to find a way to update something like Slumber Party Massacre for the digital age. The ugliness is just a byproduct of them not thinking through the messages that their movie might be sending."

    It's terrifying to me that when these filmmakers are not thinking shit through it leads to such a misogynist product. So this horrible view of women just comes natural to them? That might be even worse than it happening on purpose.

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  2. Thanks Patrick! Another one I can cross of my watchlist! You do me a great service, sir.

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    1. Another vote of thanks for saving me 2 hours of my life ;)

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  3. ^^^ Agree. "V/H.S: Viral" filled my quota for morally repugnant horror for a good long time. At least we know now that, if another "V/H/S" installment were to come up, a certain Mr. Trevor Matthews is able and ready to work and fit into that series' misogyny-packing standards.

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    1. Thing that sucks about the V/H/S films the most is that everyone involved is really talented. That's what makes those films even more disappointing.

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  4. You can go ahead and avoid Scarehouse for very similar reasons; I have no idea why I even bothered watching that. Just brutal, exploitative trash. Although I've never seen a acid laced pillow fight before, so that was new at least.

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