The gritty female fronted thriller is a fun trend that blew me away in films like Blood on Her Name. It can work to explore versions of female characters we aren’t used to seeing, messy and ready to kill. But, done wrong, it can feel like a shallow female centric film that can’t avoid a male focused narrative. That’s what happened in Girl.
Girl is the story of ‘Girl,’ (Bella Thorne) who journeys to the town where her father lives, intent on killing him after he sent a letter threatening her mother. Girl hasn’t seen her father since she was six, and he literally kicked her and her mother to the curb. Her last memory of him is him teaching her precision target hatchet throwing, so she’s brought her hatchet to do the job. She arrives at the lawless town and seeks out her father, hearing buzz of the mysterious brothers who run things there. When she arrives at her father’s place, she finds him strung up in the garage, covered in signs of torture. Someone beat her to the kill.
On her own and without the satisfaction of carrying out her mission, she slowly moseys through the town, having an unfortunate run in with those famed brothers that sets of a chain of events that reveal family secrets more sinister than she imagined.
Chad Faust wrote, directed and stars alongside Thorne and Mickey Rourke, which, unfortunately removed the opportunity for some collaborative oversight. The film is about a woman, Thorne (the titular role) but it’s never about her so much as it is about the men with whom she comes in contact. Their POV’s are more important than hers, better portrayed than hers, and much of her story is about being their victim. There’s an early shot of her rolling into town where the Sherriff (Rourke) creepily stares at her from inside his SUV while she recoils. The camera focuses far more on the comedically menacing Rourke, and never once portrays the fear a woman, on her own in a strange place on a mission to kill might feel if she was being stalked by an officer. Instead of spending time with her, feeling her damage and fear, it’s shown to us. She is beaten up by three different men before the end of the first act, with no perceivable narrative purpose.
Faust is good at making you feel uncomfortable. He shoots his own character, Charmer, in ways that made me squirm. Unfortunately, he needs some target practice. The discomfort is directed the wrong way, and only made me wince as to my fear that Charmer would hit on or beat Girl up again. The film feels to be indulging Faust or the symbolic gaze. Girl has just discovered the tortured corpse of her father (that she still calls “Daddy”) and is barely keeping awake at a laundromat, but during her creepy run in with the mouthy Charmer, she still takes time to strip and change in the middle of the space. After the two have a brutal scuffle, she gazes at him and asks, “Still want to fuck me?” and he replies “Even more.”
A more delicate hand could have made her run ins with the brothers nuanced. Later, Charmer tells her she needs a man to fight for her, right before she beats him up. It’s a nice “don’t tell me to smile,” moment but feels too disingenuous in the whole to make it land as a feminist moment.
Thorne is exceptional in this role, and its nice to see her vary her portfolio and show us what she can do. She starts off begging us to know she is gritty, grabbing beer by the bottle neck while wearing smeared eyeliner. But later in the film, when her performance relies more on powerful delivery of dialogue, she really shines. This will stand as her resume line item for these types of roles.
The action is shot well enough with some rattling fight scenes and torture devices used to build tension. The visual aesthetic works and creates and all around feel of the town in Anywhere, USA.
The twisted but simple narrative of the gritty female fronted film is a welcome addition to big and small screens, but, unfortunately, by making her the object of the victimizers instead of the subject of victimization, Girl misses the target.