One has to wonder exactly who a film like Girls Against Boys was designed for. Taken at its core message, which is no deeper than “men suck,” one might assume that women are the target audience. However, given that it was directed, produced and, written by men, and that its idea of revenge killing is a highly sexual, fetishistic process, it could easily be seen as a male fantasy movie more than one of female empowerment.
We begin the movie by following a couple of days in the life of Shae (Danielle Panabaker), a college student who apparently only attends lectures on feminist critique — so that the film can either have a guise of being about the subject or because it genuinely believes in its principles. These days don’t play out well for her. She is dumped by her boyfriend, a 35-year-old man who was separated from his wife but is hoping for reconciliation, and she also meets a guy at a bar; he winds up following her home and after a bit of fighting winds up raping her. The police don’t seem to care. What’s a girl to do?
Enter Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), whom Shae met at the club she bartends a little while earlier. Lu believes that all men are pigs, and nobody is going to stop them, so taking revenge into their own hands is the path that they should follow. And that’s basically it. Lu is pure id, Shae has a conscience but also wants revenge, particularly on the guy who raped her, and that’s basically the entire movie right there. Once you know the character dynamics, you can pretty much see exactly where the film is going.
If it sounds like there’s little on the surface, that’s because there is. The only points of interest that Girls Against Boys has comes from trying to figure out whether it works as a genuine feminist movie or if it dresses up as one in hopes that nobody will notice its true male fantasy desires. That is, assuming people care enough to have that debate instead of just watching pretty girls kill men with guns and a samurai sword. Yes, a samurai sword. I did mention fetishes, didn’t I?
I enjoy taking the neutral position, simply because it’s a lot more fun to consider that maybe both sides have a point, and that one does not disprove the other. Yes, the killings and outfits are sometimes sexier than they need to be. Point for the male fantasy argument. But perhaps the film’s point is that in order for the male characters to be lured — and for the audience to pay attention — this is what has to happen. And while the feminist college lectures were a bit too blunt, they at least got you thinking.
The problem, I think, is that Girls Against Boys walks a sort of odd middling ground. It doesn’t really feature a whole lot of sex or violence, meaning it will seem tame in comparison to other exploitation films; sure, there’s gore, but the deaths come in two flavors and you don’t see much. It’s also not smart enough and it doesn’t have enough ideas in order to really work as a philosophical arthouse film, either. So it sits uneasily in the middle, unable to please either crowd.
Maybe there’s place in the world for this sort of movie. One which has just enough ideas to have audience members debate its true merits while also having just enough violence to please the gore-hounds. I suppose doing just enough in each of these areas might make it worth seeing. Then you can decide for yourself what it’s really about and who it’s truly for. Or perhaps that will simply depend on what you bring with you to the movie; sometimes they’re like that, where everyone will see it differently based on their own experiences.
And it’s not like you’ll be watching a boring movie. The first act does drag on for too long, while the third doesn’t get enough time to explore what it wants to, but for the most part it moves at a brisk pace and is entertaining. It’s funny watching the juxtaposition of dispassionate killing — and the murders do nothing emotionally or psychologically for the majority of the film, nor are there any consequences to them– and a discussion just afterward on the nutritional information of Cap’n Crunch, showing just how little the men and their deaths mean to the character. I said “funny.” Maybe that’s just me. I was laughing.
The most showy of the performances comes from Nicole LaLiberte, who initiates the killing and is captivating for the entire time she’s on-screen. Contrast that with Danielle Panabaker, playing an emotionally confused and fragile woman, and the tandem works well. LaLiberte plays crazy while Panabaker often has a sadistic grin peeking through that you can believe both of them could wind up as the killers they become in the second half.
I think Girls Against Boys is worth watching even if I don’t necessarily know if I think it’s good or even if I liked it. It might not go far enough with its exploitation or ideas, but maybe there’s a middle ground to be covered that rarely gets hit. The film is simple on the surface, although it gets more interesting the more you think about it. It has a couple of good performances and an intriguing take on the rape/revenge genre, mostly by not really being like other films in the genre. I say give it a watch.