It's Hard to Look Away From "Deadgirl" and "PVC-1"

The more horrible horror films get, the harder they are to ignore. That is, it would be easy for you not to rent Deadgirl (Dark Sky)—don't click it into your Netflix queue or plop it down on the counter at your local video stop, neither of which most of you were probably going to do anyway. But Deadgirl is still out there, beaming onto screens and into eyes and minds, and none of what it says about the people it's about, the people who made it, and the people who watch it—us—is any less valid, or troubling.

In another era of movies, high-schoolers Rickie (Shiloh Fernandez) and JT (Noah Segan) might have been identikit-ed as greasers or stoners, but in the sun-baked contemporary everysuburb in which the film is set, they're just losers. Cutting class one day, they break into a long-abandoned mental hospital and, deep in the basement, stumble across a nude young woman (Jenny Spain) strapped to a gurney. The vulpine JT (Segan gives good early Christian Slater) sees a situation to exploit. The brooding, sensitive Rickie (Fernandez channeling Joaquin Phoenix at his most wounded) wants to do the right thing, but not so much that he actually calls the cops. The fact that the woman is seemingly insensible, can't be killed, and does her best to bite anyone who gets near her grimy grin makes it no less horrible when JT turns her into his own private sex toy.

JT and fellow loser Wheeler (Eric Podnar) go on to play out every hysterical stereotype about the pig-like sexual nature of men, and worse. For example, in this case, she doesn't even have to have a pulse. Rickie pines for beautiful, popular classmate JoAnn (Candice Accola), doesn't dip into JT's fetid depravity, and suffers from a guilty conscience, but ultimately none that of really makes him any better, because he allows it to go on. And, without giving too much away, as the stakes rise, no one strikes a definitive blow for the finer aspects of human nature.

What is perhaps most disturbing about Deadgirl is how difficult it is to dismiss as mere genre ick. Co-directors Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento and cinematographer Harris Charalambous create a world that's both convincing in its everyday details and menacing in its nightmare qualities. (Shots of a snarling black dog gleaming against the silky dark of the inky basement startle with their beauty and menace.) A ham-handed plot thread involving two bullying jocks (Andrew DiPalma and Nolan Gerard Funk) and the spread of the secret threatens to derail the film into camp territory, but the skill with which Fernandez, Segan, and the directors present young men wrestling with feelings and decisions out of their league in a world where women are so often presented as playthings—vessels, if you will, for fantasies or, um, whatever—lends the film a surprising dramatic heft. Even if the premise seems ridiculous, Rickie and JT don't. What's worse than a repellent gorno flick? A repellent gorno flick from which you can't look away.

A certain skill level also defines PVC-1 (MPI), a very different kind of horror story. A group of armed men break into a Colombian farm house, terrify the nuclear family inside, and leave, but not before securing a fat, white collar of plastic PVC tubing around the neck of the woman of the house (Merida Urquia). The collar, the family is informed by cassette tape, is a bomb, and unless the gang gets a sizeable chunk of pesos, it will explode. So the woman hurries off with various family members through the jungle surrounding their farm to meet up with a police bomb-disposal squad, traipsing along trails and riding on railroad hand-cars—all in one take.

The entirety of PVC-1's based-on-a-true-story 87 minutes is, in fact, one, unbroken shot, switching characters and focus, wheeling around the action, and relentlessly following the weeping Elvira as she races to meet the bomb expert (the patrician Hugo Pereira), whereupon the movie's pace slows to an agonizing crawl as he labors to disarm the bomb without setting it off. Everyone else backs off (wisely) leaving the two in a situation about as intimate as any that involves keeping your clothes on, their lives in each other's hands.

Spiros Stathoulopoulos not only produced, directed, and co-wrote, he also operated the Steadicam that tracks the characters over what seems like miles of terrain and several different modes of transport, all without failing to catch small moments like Pereira's quietly intense cop saying goodbye to his young wife and child and assembling his alarmingly ramshackle tools (a candle, a pocketknife, coat hangers). The tick-tock created by the camera's unblinking gaze helps ratchet up the tension, as do the occasional hitches in the attempted rescue, but what elevates PVC-1 above mere technical coup is, again, the human factor, embodied in the immediate and urgent bond between Urquia and Pereira's characters. Well cast, they pull out miraculous performances, not least because the camera rarely looks away.