After college student Shae’s 35-year-old married boyfriend breaks things off with her, she heads off for her evening shift at a bar where she is constantly hit on by leering businessmen. Dejected after the break-up, she is consoled by new waitress Lulu, who takes her out for a drunken night to help her forget her heartache. They meet three guys and Shae is taken home by Simon, who rapes her when he is not invited in. Upon reporting the crime, Shae is patronised by the cop on duty, and Lulu decides to take matters into her own hands. She gets hold of a gun and embroils her new friend in a bloody trail of vengeance against the scumbag men in Shae’s life.
Recent years have seen horror lead the way in terms of its cinema’s attempts to redress its widespread gender imbalance. Any number of films from Excision to Starry Eyes and The Woman to The Babadook centre on interesting, well-written female leads and often revolve around harsh real-world issues faced by women. Girls Against Boys certainly works to continue in this trend, it’s just that director Austin Chick seems to see the movement as just that – a trend. Shae is first seen attending a college lecture about misogyny and female representation. The emphasis is on the lecturer and her words, making it all-too-obvious that this is a theme that we, as viewers, are to latch onto.
Shae is given little background besides her bad relationship choices and frequently ends up crying in a ball over the actions of despicable males. We also get no explanation as to why this typical ‘nice girl’ is drawn so easily into a goodtime murder spree. Lulu is granted even less character development, with no explanation for her cavalier attitude towards murder. She jokes at one point that she does what she does due to an abusive childhood, but actually she just really hates men. Despite their criminally under-written characters however, our troublesome twosome are actually rather watchable. As Shae, Danielle Panabaker brings a likeability to what is on paper, a poorly conceived and depthless character. She’s certainly no stranger to this kind of easy-going, not-too-challenging horror, having appeared in the remakes of both Friday The 13th and The Crazies, as well as John Carpenter’s effective The Ward.
And there’s more to enjoy in Girls Against Boys. It’s fluffy, breezy tone belies the mean-spirited violence and works, at least for the majority of the film’s runtime. There’s a gleefulness to the first few kills which is somewhat infectious. We also get subtle visual clues littered throughout that foreshadow the film’s ending – one that could still barely register on a first viewing. Austin Chick even keeps a fairly weighty theme going throughout – that of inverted innocence and the subversion of power roles. Shae’s lecturer talks of the innocence in the pop cultural image of the Japanese schoolgirl, and how it is subverted through sexualisation in art. As Shae is raped outside her front door, the camera focuses on a teddybear keyring dangling from her keys, with the brutal act out of focus in the background. Then there’s the turnaround of power as Lulu handcuffs the cop to the bed and turns his own weapon on him. If Chick could have tied this running theme in with the intended feminist slant, he could have been onto something, but it just doesn’t quite work out.
Austin Chick is a decent enough director but as the narrative clichés stack up, it feels as though he could have done with a helping hand when it comes to writing from a female’s perspective. It’s easy to imagine the motivation given by him to his leads being limited to ‘guys are such jerks’. Shae is pining over a guy so Lulu’s response, of course, is to take her out to get shitfaced, dance sexily and meet some dudes. Then when Shae finally decides to go out with a nice guy, their blossoming relationship is depicted with a brief sequence of their date at a funfair, where he wins her a cuddly toy, laughing all the while. The scene is presented with nary a whisper of irony and negates the arc of a character that is by this point complicit in multiple murders.
Originally release in 2012 but just now reaching UK shores via Arrow’s dvd (which includes a brief Making Of), Girls Against Boys would perhaps have worked better as a short. The lead characters’ lack of depth and motivations could be partially excused and the casual killings easier to get on board with. The violence is generally well-handled however, and the film’s bratty tone is undeniably endearing, making for an enjoyable enough 90-odd minutes. But it’s just so difficult to get past the clumsily handled feminist intent. In his attempts to make a feminist revenge film, director Chick has created a world in which virtually all men are despicable scumbags, and the ones who aren’t get it anyway. Lulu kills not because of some deep-rooted trauma, but because she enjoys it, resulting in a film that merely enforces the myth of the ‘man-hating’ feminist.