“GIRL HOUSE” (Movie Review)Home,Movies/TV,News,Reviews Michael Gingold
GIRL HOUSE (in select theaters and on VOD now) opens with a quote from none other than Ted Bundy about the connection between pornography and male violence, then has a little trouble reconciling whether it wants to comment on the subject or simply be an example of it.
As it happens, GIRL HOUSE’s villain, known only by his on-line handle of “Loverboy,” doesn’t need porn to set him on his misogynist path. We first meet him in a prologue of sexual humiliation and revenge, made queasier by the fact that the characters are young teens (the main humiliator is played by Camren Bicondova, the junior Selina Kyle/Catwoman on TV’s GOTHAM). Years later, in a North Carolina where no one has a Southern accent, college student Kylie (Ali Cobrin) becomes the latest addition to GirlHouse, a website allowing viewers all visual access to an isolated mansion inhabited by a bevy of gorgeous gals cavorting in various stages of undress. (The occasional guy is also evidently allowed to get lucky with one lady or another, though the particulars of this aren’t clear.)
“It’s not like skanky BOOGIE NIGHTS porn,” Kylie is assured as she moves into GirlHouse, setting up a rather unfair comparison. There are, ahem, stabs at addressing the ways in which taking part in this voyeur show empowers the women and allows them to feel control over their own sexuality, though just as often, this particular setup comes across as simply a handy way to up the nudity quotient. In any case, the inhabitants of GirlHouse lose control of the situation after the now grown-up Loverboy (beefy actor/rapper Slaine) logs on and becomes obsessed with Kylie; unfortunately for her and her housemates, he’s not just a sexually perverted madman but also a computer genius able to hack his way past all the site’s security and safety firewalls, thus allowing him to find his way over for a binge of more physical hacking.
GIRL HOUSE was directed by Trevor Matthews and Jon Knautz, who as star and helmer respectively delivered a high-spirited practical-creature-FX bonanza with JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER, and who here hark back to the days when slasher flicks got grimier with their scenarios than the clean-teen showcases they often are today. Its villain is not a masked or shadowy mystery man but a hulking brute, he-man woman-hatred personified, and GIRLHOUSE veers uncomfortably close to suggesting that its ladies are being punished for the very flaunting of their sexuality that the movie elsewhere wants to celebrate as their freedom of expression. Meanwhile, scripter Nick Gordon adds a subplot in which college student Ben (Adam DiMarco) recognizes Kylie on-line as a childhood classmate he was once enamored of, reconnects with and starts dating her. Ben seems to have noble intentions, but the film doesn’t address the fact that what he’s up to starts off as basically a more benign kind of stalking, and he acts rather judgmental about her choice of hobby for someone who has only found and been able to contact her due to that very job.
Eventually, once the massacre starts, the filmmakers have a bit of fun with their updated angle as Ben witnesses Kylie’s plight on the site and tries to warn and aid her and her housemates long-distance. Unfortunately, the supporting would-be victims need the help; they’re as foolish and ineffectual about self-preservation as their forebears in the mad-killer fare of less “enlightened” times. There’s actually a scene in which one gal is being threatened, another knocks out Loverboy from behind and the two not only leave the room without assuring he’s down for the count, but immediately split up. The graphic nature of the murders will please the gorehounds, but the fate of one gal, whose mutilation is played for a cheap bit of would-be humor and ultimately hastens her own death because she can’t face the loss of her good looks, is ugly in ways beyond the visual.
Cobrin makes for a likable, sympathetic heroine, who helps pilot GIRLHOUSE through the unpleasant waters it sometimes travels. There was an opportunity here to make a more knowing film about how the modern computer age has commodified voyeurism and tie it in with a murderer-amok scenario, and there are flashes of wit (like an offhand revelation about GirlHouse overseer Gary, played by James Thomas) suggesting that it had satirical possibilities as well. Too often, though, the moviemakers fall back on grisly, gamy sensationalism.