SXSW 2012 Review: GIRLS AGAINST BOYS
It is as difficult to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with Girls Against Boys, as it is difficult to determine exactly what the film is trying to achieve. At its most basic, Austin Chick's story is about Shae (Danielle Panabaker), and her transformation from a helpless, aimless girl into an independent, headstrong woman. However, as with any film so steeped in issues of gender politics, there's more here than meets the eye.
The film opens promisingly. Following a particularly attention-grabbing pre-credits sequence, we meet Shae as she plans for a weekend getaway in the Hamptons with her current flame, a married (but separated) older man. It doesn't work out, and our heartbroken heroine spends the next few days in a state of near-catatonic depression, only picking herself up when a co-worker, the take-no-shit Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), insists that the two of them hit the town together, and drown their sorrows. The night goes well enough, with the two ladies partying 'til dawn, and meeting a group of seemingly nice guys. However, when one of them insists on taking Shae home, and is rebuffed at her apartment, things get ugly, and he rapes her outside of her front door. Shae eventually relates the trauma to Lu, who convinces her to go down to the police station and report the crime, where they are greeted by a stable of unsympathetic male officers. Things get nasty from there: Lu seduces and then dispatches one of the aforementioned cops, and, using his stolen gun, the two venture out to settle the score.
It is past this point that the story begins to drift. Make no mistakes, rape is a heinous, unforgivable crime, and especially in the world of film, I can think of precious few (male and female) who would shed tears over the death of one so guilty. However, Shae and Lu kill with barely anything resembling discrimination: men guilty of nothing more than general assholery are slaughtered at will because, according to Lu "everybody did something." This wanton violence is met with precious little resistance from Shae, who transforms from painfully shy wallflower into ruthless killer within the span of one scene.
There is certainly a place for female vigilante justice, but tonally, Girls Against Boys is muddled. The film is presented to the audience in a way that makes us think beyond the visceral satisfaction of seeing a brutalized woman turn the tables on her tormentors, but once we think for too long, we realize that Shae and Lu, especially given their extremely shallow character development, are at best, unlikeable, and at worst, downright sociopathic. Furthermore, protagonist Shae remains second-fiddle to the supporting Lu in terms of agency throughout, which brings up questions as to whom, exactly, this story belongs. A third-act rift between the two characters hints at some sort of internal moral struggle, but the resolution to this conflict is an ambiguous ending that might have worked better if we knew more about these women beyond their victimization and resulting bloodlust.
It's especially unfortunate that a less than spectacular script derails such a technically well-made film. The tight, claustrophobic camerawork is both beautifully shot and powerful, and haunting sound design pulls more than one scene together with elegance. Credit should also be given to the cast, with Ms. Panabaker especially bringing some life and even sympathy to a character who is dragged around by the nose until finally becoming active in the film's closing minutes. However, it's hard to look past the fact that Girls Against Boys, which is ostensibly a subversion of female exploitation, winds up feeling so hollow and exploitative.