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“Pretentious” is an overused word, its meaning possibly worn
down (admittedly, so is an introduction that calls something well-worn, only to
explain its ongoing relevance), but GIRLS AGAINST BOYS, in all its
armchair-feminist glory, is exactly that. Existing as a logline to reel in
genre fans and hinging on a director’s name to excite the art houses, the film
(which had its world premiere at the current SXSW festival) will, in truth,
Following in the footsteps of a long list of exploitation
classics (whose empowering intentions remain debatable), the latest film from
Austin Chick (XX/XY) would like to believe it’s the first rape/revenge film
with larger issues of gender roles and how we treat each other on its mind.
It’s not, and isn’t nearly provocative enough to force a conversation,
intellectually or as reaction to its displays of violence. Chick’s treatment of
the onscreen bloodshed—save the rape itself (commendably handled in a decidedly
non-graphic manner) and a stunning stomach slice—feels less a decision of
restraint and more simply bland. Same goes for its treatment of pop culture’s
misogyny, general cruelty and contradictory attitudes toward women. Simply
stating there’s a problem isn’t a stance, and GIRLS AGAINST BOYS flipflops
between having nothing to say and being unsure of what it’s trying to say—which
makes it as shallow as some of its purely exploitative predecessors, just much
The story itself concerns Shae (FRIDAY THE 13TH’s Danielle
Panabaker), despairing over a failed fling with a married man, who heads out
with new friend Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) for a drunken, sweaty evening that sadly
ends in a sexual assault. The dangerous, empowered and stunning Lu leads Shae
in a weekend-long spree of anger, cereal talk, road-trip singalongs and bloody
revenge. Chick, by all means a competent filmmaker, captures everything with a
disaffected and straightforward aesthetic, leaving the fever dream nature of
being swept up in an impulsive murder spree feeling like the cinematic
equivalent of a shoulder shrug. Whatever, NBD. This would be fine if it felt intentional, but the eventual
moment of clarity and emotional arc land with a thud and feels unearned,
leaving the two talented leads in the lurch, trying to pick up the slack amidst
the one-note atmosphere.
GIRLS AGAINST BOYS basically fails in its aim to smartly
elicit response in a titillating manner. It won’t be a part of the conversation
because it doesn’t have a conversation to start, a factor only hurt by both its
story beats and genuine New York locations that remind one of the similar, much
better MS. 45.
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