Jilted by an older, married lover, college girl Shae (Danielle Panabaker) is crying in the back room of the bar where she works when she meets the charismatic, enigmatic Lu (Nicole Laliberte). To help Shae feel better, Lu takes her for a night on the town. They party, get drunk, make out on the dance floor and go home with a couple of guys. But when Shae has second thoughts, Simon (Michael Stahl-David) follows her home and rapes her. The morning after, Shae again seeks solace with Lu who takes her to the police. Unfortunately the cops prove insensitive and unhelpful. So Lu lures one particularly sexist officer (Matthew Rauche) back home where she handcuffs him to her bed, steals his gun and shoots him in the balls. Meanwhile Shae reaches out in desperation to her former lover Terry (Andrew Howard) who responds with yet another rape attempt. Finally driven over the edge, Shae joins Lu as they take violent revenge on every man that ever wronged them.
Fans of Abel Ferrara's seminal feminist vigilante thriller Ms. 45 (1981) will find themselves on faintly familiar ground with Girls Against Boys. The similarities extend to a key sequence set at a Halloween party where Lu dons kinky kabuki schoolgirl garb to lure one victim to death by samurai sword. Despite promotional art that tries to sell the film as low-rent torture porn, writer-director Austin Chick wisely dials down the gore to serve up something thought-provoking, character driven and subtly unsettling instead. Tonally and stylistically Girls Against Boys is rather closer to indie drama. Which, in a dual irony, reflects the character-led spirit of early grindhouse cinema yet will likely alienate those weaned on what passes for horror these days. Impeccably photographed by Kat Westergaard (who pulls off some stunning visual coups that spring organically from the narrative), the film is also performed with admirable sincerity by both leads. For once it is nice to see a horror film where Danielle Panabaker does not die gruesomely.
Austin Chick's background is in low-key, character-led indie drama. He made his debut with the well-regarded romantic drama XX/XY (2002) that featured an early breakout role for Mark Ruffalo, co-produced Sidney Lumet's final thriller Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) and directed the solid if sadly little-scene August (2008) with Josh Hartnett and Naomie Harris. Here he pushes gender politics to the forefront, an often been a problematic aspect of horror films too often guilty of misogyny or reinforcing one-dimensional female stereotypes. Chick's central protagonist perceives herself as inhabiting a world where women are all but irrelevant until defined by men, more often than not as either sluts or crazy bitches that won't put out. If, to its detriment, Girls Against Boys, presents all but one key male character as misogynist rapist assholes, the film is counterbalanced by an intriguing thesis that posits gender bias stems from one's perspective on reality. Misogyny exists everywhere only if that is what someone chooses to believe. Of course the problem with that idea is it gives short shrift to numerous troubling gender inequalities that genuinely do exist in our world.
That the film is ultimately less provocative and stimulating than Ferrara's exploitation classic might be due to Chick's adherence to dream logic requires the viewer to overlook several plot holes and inconsistencies. Lean and wiry Nicole Laberte and Danielle Panabaker lack the physical prowess to make credible terror figures. Plus many will justifiably wonder how these two keep getting away with multiple murders? Of course this plays into the dream logic and to Chick's credit he weaves a suitable aura of ambiguity. Admittedly the film employs arguably the most over-used twist in modern cinema. It also lifts a few themes and motifs from Brian De Palma's underrated mind-bender Femme Fatale (2002). A darkly comedic discussion of the nutritional value of Cap'n'Crunch cereal also brings to mind early Quentin Tarantino as does the kidnap juxtaposed with a jaunty sing-along to Donovan's 'Sunshine Superman.' Later 'Hurdy-Gurdy Man' plays a significant role in proceedings, another Donovan song David Fincher used previously to devastating effect in his true crime thriller Zodiac (2006). Though the film's fascinating potpourri of ideas do not entirely gel, the quiet, introspective moments add an undeniably lyrical quality and the central relationship is intriguing and well played by two accomplished actresses.