2015 - 99 minutes
Directed by: Trevor Matthews
Written by: Nick Gordon
Starring: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, James Thomas, Alyson Bath, Alice Hunter, Chasty Ballesteros
The slasher subgenre relies heavily on iconography to connect with viewers and, hopefully, unnerve them in some way. Jason’s hockey mask, Freddy’s glove, and Michael’s mask are all unmistakable emblems of their respective series and psychopaths. What’s forgotten all too often, however, are the stories behind the symbols and the craft that helped cement the legacies.
Contemporary horror is filled with reboots, reimaginings, and hollow facsimiles that understand the look but don’t care to comprehend the folklore. And, more importantly, the reality behind the myth. First-time writer Nick Gordon and first-time director Trevor Matthews get it. While their Girl House has a few illogical leaps and some visual budgetary limitations, it’s rough around the edges in mostly the right ways.
Desperate to pay for college, student Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin) moves into a home rigged with cameras that stream X-rated content 24 hours a day on the website Girlhouse.com. The guy who runs the website only seems half-sleazy and promises Kylie only has be as kinky as she wants to be. In other words, doing a strip show in front of your laptop is probably required; sex with male houseguests is not. She’s introduced to her new housemates who fit nicely into stereotypes – the “#1 girl” princess, the tough chick, the sex addict, the heroin addict, and so on. Innocent-looking Kylie quickly becomes a hit with the website clientele, which leads to a potential romantic connection with former grade school mate Ben (Adam DiMarco). It also leads to an obsession from the extremely disturbed site regular using the screenname Loverboy (played by the appropriately single-named Slaine).
The setup is it at times unwieldy and repetitive, but at least the movie establishes a unique world and the characters that inhabit it before the crazed killer is unleashed. And when he is, it’s absolutely brutal without an overuse of gimmickry like leaps from the dark and overpowering music cues. A lunatic running around in a mask and killing nubile women is nothing new, but there’s a naturalness to the killer’s mental descent and acting out that makes it feel all the more real, and therefore all the more horrifying. The rampage is also compact, the killing spree taking place in one evening in near real-time, adding to the suspense and aiding with the suspension of disbelief as potential prey are oblivious to what’s happening around them until it’s too late.
There are some conveniences that stand out during the climax. Loverboy happens to be an expert computer hacker that allows him to take control of the Girlhouse home – finding its secret location and using his smartphone to control cameras and unlock doors. It’s also unclear how he gets to the site owner’s offsite monitoring station and takes it over. Matthews wisely doesn’t linger on the specifics, however, and it makes enough sense how and why Loverboy gets where he needs to be. If Michael Myers can find Haddonfield, Loverboy can find the Girlhouse, I suppose.
Online teasing from Kylie – who never actually shows the goods to the movie audience – and her roommates (who show plenty) builds up to the explosive finale that is proficient in its bloodletting and pacing. The statements on voyeurism (aided by a Rear Window name drop) are present without being belabored, and genre fans eager for a film to inject some retro-influence into an original modern slasher are likely to see something they like in Girl House.