Gunslinger Girl

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“Young and heavily-armed.”

gunslingergirlIf you want something more cerebral and family friendly than Kite – if a story about underage assassins can ever be family friendly! – then Gunslinger Girl is perhaps for you. Set in Italy, a shadowy government organization, the Social Welfare Agency, has a prototype project which takes young women from hospital beds, augments their strength, speed and agility with cybernetic accessories, and unleashes them as state-sponsored special agents, with a wide-ranging license to kill. Each has a handler, to maintain and direct their conditioning and act as backup. But these trained assassins are still little girls at heart, with a fondness for teddy bears and ice-cream, as well as forming disturbing attachments to their handlers, who become their only family.

Though probably the most disturbing thing here, is that these are the forces of good: this is your tax dollars (well, tax lira) at work, fighting against radical terrorists and organized crime. Does the end justify the means, in terms of both the physical and emotional costs paid by those who take part, especially those too young to offer any kind of informed consent? Perhaps wisely, the thirteen 22-minutes episodes don’t delve too far down that rabbit-hole, preferring to concentrate more on the relationships between the five girls who are the subjects of the project. There’s something of Ghost in the Shell here, with the heroines’ awareness of their own (now, largely mechanical) nature leading them to ponder what it is to be human, and whether they can even consider themselves as qualifying any more.

The action here is perhaps less frequent than you’d expect, each episode typically having one or two brief bursts of intense activity. This doesn’t soft-pedal the violence in any way, even if it doesn’t seem to have the emotional impact on its young subjects that you feel it might; this could well be the point, and may also be a side-effect of the amnesia which is induced in them. The technical aspects are solid, in particular the music which prefers a classical tone to the (over-used, to be honest) standard large helping of J-Pop tunes, and the show has been complimented for its attention to detail, particularly in the details of the weapons it depicts.

My main issue is the lack of any real story arc or escalation. You reach the end of the 13th episode and, while not ineffective (most of the girls sit out in a meadow, watching a meteor shower and singing Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, while one lies in a hospital bed), it would hardly pass for a satisfactory conclusion. This may well result from it being an adaptation of just the first two volumes, in a series actually running to fifteen. Given this, it might have been wise to cut down the characters; rather than splitting stories and characterization relatively evenly across the five, focusing on one or two in greater depth would potentially have been more successful. That said, I still appreciated its more thoughtful and leisurely pacing, and will certainly cover the sequel series in due course.

Dir: Hiroshi Ishidori
Star (voice): Eri Sendai, Yuuka Nanri, Kanako Mitsuhashi, Ami Koshimizu

The Darkest Dawn

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“Illegal aliens”

darkestdawnThis is apparently a sequel to a previous movie about an alien invasion of Earth (and, specifically, the United Kingdom) from the same director, Hungerford. While I haven’t seen it, this likely didn’t impact things too much here; I sense it’s perhaps closer to a separate story, unfolding in the same universe, than a true sequel. It’s the story of teenage sisters Chloe (Leadley) and Sam (Wallis), with the former getting a video camera for her birthday – just in time for said invasion to kick off, with their family being separated in the ensuing chaos. Toting her camera, Chloe and her sibling take shelter, then scurry through the blasted landscape, facing the threat not just of the extra-terrestrials, but renegade bands of survivors. For it also turns out Chloe, specifically her blood, is a key to the resistance. What are the odds?

There’s a strong sense of Cloverfield here, with the alien threat glimpsed more in passing than directly. The major difference is probably the human element, since the sisters are in peril from other people, as much if not more than from the invaders. Of course, the whole “found footage” thing has been utterly done to death since Blair Witch – and I think even that was vastly over-rated. Here, it adds precious little to proceedings, and there’s not much which could have been done equally as well (or, arguably, better), with an external viewpoint. It has all the usual issues of the genre; most obviously, why the lead character keeps filming, when on multiple occasions common sense and survival instinct would dictate dumping the camera and legging it. But then, a more conventional approach probably would have led to the production costing a great deal more than £40,000 (approx. 1/500th that of Cloverfield).

The two leads are, I believe, YouTube stars rather than professional actresses, and that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. They do have a natural and unaffected quality, which helps their characters avoid falling into the irritating teenager trap. But they don’t have much more, and any time there is actual acting required – rather than reacting – then they come up short. While the script does give Chloe a decent arc, going from a typically self-obsessed teenage girl into a focused and determined young woman, the climax feels somewhat undercooked. It does not offer the viewer much in the way of resolution, I suspect because writer-director Casson perhaps wants to return to the same milieu in future.

While I wouldn’t be averse to that, I hope Casson (dear God, I just realized he’s only 22 and has already made and had released two cinematic features) stretches his talents into more than the found footage genre, since too often this is merely a crutch for low-budget film-makers, used to excuse away shaky camerawork and improvised dialogue. There’s some evidence of talent visible here, on both sides of the camera – providing you can get past the likely motion sickness this may cause.

Dir: Drew Casson
Star: Bethan Mary Leadley, Cherry Wallis, Stuart Ashen, Drew Casson

Kill La Kill

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“Not sure if serious…”

killlakillAfter I watched the first episode of this show, I was sure it was a delicious parody of anime shows, particular the “super-powered high-school” genre. It seemed to be taking the concepts of shows such as Sailor Moon, say, and ramping everything up to 11. The violence, in particular, is somewhere beyond Dragon Ball Z in terms of excess, except with copious additional amounts of arterial spray – though people survive far beyond the point at which any normal person would be a desiccated husk. I mean, just look at that heroine’s outfit on the right. They cannot be serious, can they? But the longer this went on… the less sure I was whether it was a parody. If it is, it’s an impressively straight-faced one.

The setting is Honnouji Academy, a Tokyo high school ruled over by Satsuki Kiryuin (Yuzuki), who runs the place as a neo-fascist regime, enforcing her will through selected pupils. Her chosen ones are enhanced by “Goku uniforms” of various levels, made from a strange substance called life fibers, which give the wearer superhuman abilities. But into this comes Ryuko Matoi (Koshimizu), a transfer student with an agenda all her own – as well as her own enhanced uniform, a sentient outfit called Senketsu (Seki), and half of a pair of giant scissors, which she starts using to take out Satsuki’s minions. For Ryuko is seeking the killer of her father, the scientist who developed Senketsu, and seems like Satsuki played a significant role in that murder.

There’s more. A lot more. Suffice it to say that just about no-one here is quite what they seem, right down to the life fibers, and by the time you reach the final episode, loyalties and alliances have gone to a completely different landscape. For something which feels like it should be shallow, tongue in cheek and certainly has copious amounts of fan service (albeit being fairly even-handed in its OTT depiction of both sexes), there’s clearly considerable effort gone into the plotting. But, let’s be honest, the main focus here is on the fights, as Ryuko first makes her way up the chain of command toward her nemesis, and then discovers the truth about what’s going on and has to recalibrate her sights. There’s hardly one of the 24 x 25-minute episodes which does not consist of at least one-third major, major animated mayhem, with Ryoko beating the tar out of one or more enemies, and taking as much damage as she receives.

As such, it does get somewhat repetitive – if you’ve seen Ryuko’s transformation sequence once, you’ve seen it several dozen times – and there isn’t much sense of escalation to the action. But it is brashly hyper-energetic, relentlessly female-driven, largely romance free and perfect for viewing in small, highly-caffeinated doses. If only I could figure out whether or not it was intended to be one big in-joke or not, I know whether or not to feel guilty about enjoying it.

Dir: Hiroyuki Imaishi
Star: Ami Koshimizu, Ryoka Yuzuki, Aya Suzaki, Toshihiko Seki

Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Literary rating: starstarstarstarhalf
Kick-butt quotient: action2action2

This works rather better as historical fiction than an action novel, and is set in the late 15th century, when the province of Brittany was fighting to remain independent from France. Such high-level political machinations are far above the heads of most inhabitants, who are busy with everyday survival. At the beginning of the book, this includes the heroine, 17-year-old Ismae, who is more concerned about her upcoming, unwanted marriage – more of a sale by her father, to be honest – to a brutal husband. Rescue comes in an unexpected form, as she is whisked away to the Convent of St. Mortain, devoted to one of the pagan gods, absorbed into the Catholic faith as a saint. Mortain’s field is death, and Ismae, who has a natural immunity to poison, is trained in his dark arts. She becomes a tool used by the Mother Superior – albeit for political ends as much as religious ones.

After a couple of training missions, the main thread of the book is her presence at the court of the young Duchess of Brittany, where she is sent as the “cousin” to her adviser, Duval. Quotes used advisedly, since the general assumption is that she’s Duval’s mistress. Know I mentioned “high-level political machinations” in the previous paragraph? Cue these, in spades, as the future of Brittany hinges largely on to whom the Duchess is married. [It was only right at the end that I realized the Duchess had barely turned thirteen, rendering some of the previous events significantly more creepy] There are any number of factions, each with their own agenda, and willing to go to any lengths to make sure they’re achieved; figuring out and negotiating the maze of loyalties and deception is no easy matter.

By coincidence, I read this not long after The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory, which depicts events in a similarly chaotic period, just across the English Channel and around the same time. That didn’t have enough action to qualify here, but did get me in the appropriate Middle Ages mindset. It did share a supernatural element, with its heroine being able to affect the weather, for example. Here, Ismae’s main talent is her ability to see the mark of Mortain on those the saint has targeted for death. But this is problematic when it conflicts with the instructions given to her by the Mother Superior, and the main thrust of the heroine’s development is her transition away from an indoctrinated cult-head, as she realizes she might be being manipulated and used, almost as much as in her peasant days.

Part of this is – and you can insert a heavy sigh, complete with eye-rolling here – her blossoming feelings for Duval. It’s clear, virtually from the first time he appears, that he is the Designated Love Interest, and it’s only a matter of time before our hard-nosed assassin will inevitably be making googly eyes at him. It’s certainly the case that, once she and he arrive at the castle, the action largely grinds to a halt, being replaced by much skulking around and eavesdropping on other people’s conversations. There’s much more suspicion than assassination, outside of one incident at the banquet, where she saves the Duchess from violent death at the hands of a mime – okay, it’s more one of a strolling troupe of players, but I find the idea of a killer mime just too amusing to discard. [Also: while Ismae does wield a crossbow, it’s considerably smaller than the one pictured on the cover!]

I did like the meshing of old and new religious beliefs, and must confess, this certainly didn’t feel like a 550-page tome [one advantage of e-books is their lack of weight!], since I ripped through it in not much more than a week, which is lightning fast by my standards. But the book did suffer from incomplete subplots, such as the psycho fellow novitiate, who is also present in the Duchess’s castle, only to vanish entirely from the story without explanation. Perhaps this is something which will be explained in a future installment. Having paid 99 cents for this on special offer, I guess I can’t complain; but I likely wouldn’t be inclined to pay the $9.99 currently being demanded for the second part of the trilogy.

Author: Robin LaFevers 
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, available through Amazon, both as a printed book and an e-book.

Here’s the trailer. Yep, TIL that books nowadays have trailers…

High School Hellcats

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“Pussies galore.”

hellcatsSpectacularly dated in some ways, this also possesses comforting resonances with the present day: hey, teenagers were brattily rebellious in 1958 too. New girl Joyce (Lime) is lured in by the bad-girl posings of the Hellcats, led by Connie (Lund) and her long-time second in command, Dolly (Sidney). They shoplift! They throw knives about! They smoke! This is all to the concern, not so much of her parents (who seem largely oblivious to the moral depths into which their daughter is sinking, providing her skirts aren’t too short), as her boyfriend, Mike (Halsey), who is concerned about where the Hellcats are leading Joyce.

Dolly, meanwhile, is none too happy at the increasingly cozy relationship between Connie and Joyce, that threatens to supplant her position as deputy. Matters come to a head after a party at an unoccupied house, where a game of “sardines” has a tragic conclusion. The death is hushed up, with all present vowing to keep it secret – but the cops are soon nosing around, and the pressure starts to cause cracks in the Hellcats – some members in particular…

Probably the most deliciously mad element is the first “initiation” through which Joyce has to go, involving her in the hideous crime of… wearing slacks to school. Clearly, these young women are completely irredeemable and beyond any hope of redemption. Yeah, it all seems remarkably sweet and innocent in comparison to modern life; though on the other hand, this was also while segregation was still part of American culture, and the entirely Caucasian nature of the film and its cast is also notable. But as so often, the bad girls seem an awful lot more fun than the blandly-uninteresting Joyce; give them seven more years (plus some plastic surgery), and they could end up starring in Faster, Pussycat! – there’s much the same enthusiastic spitting of over-ripe dialogue here.

It isn’t just their attitude: it’s notable that, unlike some entries in the “teenage girl gang” genre, the Hellcats are not an off-shoot of a male gang, or indeed, beholden to men in any way – the only male character of note is Mike, and he is basically as useful as a chocolate teapot. Even at the end, when Joyce is lured into a late-night meeting at the derelict cinema which is the gang’s HQ, he serves no significant purpose. That’s remarkably advanced for its time, and is the kind of forward thinking which keeps this watchable when, let’s be honest, many of the topical elements are more likely to trigger derisive snorts in the contemporary viewer. On the other hand, the amusement added certainly can’t be said to detract from the overall entertainment value.  While I’m not exactly going to claim this is some kind of hidden gem, it was certainly more watchable than I expected, given both the passage of time and its obvious throwaway nature, even in its day.

Dir: Edward Bernds
Star: Yvonne Lime, Brett Halsey, Susanne Sidney, Jana Lund

Wicked Blood

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wickedbloodLittle Miss Sunshine no more.”

The obvious inspiration here is Winter’s Bone, with its similar tale of a teenage girl trying to rescue her meth-infected family. Indeed, given the title here goes so far as to share the same initials, this feels almost like a “mockbuster,” hoping to capitalize on RedBox or Netflix consumer confusion. That said, it’s solid enough, even if there’s just something… wrong about watching Abigail Breslin, one of our most beloved of screen moppets since we saw her in Signs, blowing people up with hand-grenades. She plays Hannah Lee Baker, a bright young girl with a fondness for chess, but an orphan. Along with her older sister Amber (Vega), she lives with her Uncle Donny (Temple), who cooks meth for local crime boss, Frank Stinson (Bean). As Amber falls for Stinson’s rival, Hannah works on a chance to move away from their precarious position, but “Uncle Frank” isn’t exactly going to let any of them leave easily.

It’s a good cast, though both Breslin and Vega bring some baggage in their filmographies: Vega was one half of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids series, so is clearly growing up as well. They aren’t the only ones in unusual roles, Also kinda weird to see the very Yorkshire Bean sporting an American accent; while I won’t say whether or not he lives up to the Sean Bean meme, this is probably the third-creepiest Uncle Frank in cinema history [behind the ones in Hellraiser and Blue Velvet]. The chess metaphor is nice, if somewhat over-used; it’s clear Hannah is the smartest tool in her family, and the only one that’s capable of thinking further ahead than the next meal. She desperately wants to avoid becoming like Donny, having seen the terrible toll “hillbilly crack” has taken on him and his life, and is prepared to go to any lengths to avoid the same fate.

However, there is certainly a sense that we’ve seen this all before, with nothing particularly new in the storyline department. While I certainly admire the way Heather went about things, some of her actions were rather poorly explained, seeming to serve no purpose for her expressed goal. In particular, she opts to start stealing meth from Uncle Frank, but doesn’t appear to have any particular plan with what to do with her box o’ drugs. I’d like to have seen more of the heroine using her intellect, playing the factions off against each other, and using her smarts for leverage, because that’s obviously Hannah’s biggest edge, and the film doesn’t make enough of it. However, the performances are effective, and they help this one pass the time perfectly adequately, even when the plotting leaves a considerable amount to be desired.

Dir: Mark Young
Star: Abigail Breslin, Alexa Vega, Lew Temple, Sean Bean

Darkness on the Edge of Town

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“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

darknessSo Confucius (allegedly) said, and it appears the same is true in the Irish countryside – though I’m still not sure if the film’s title is a Bruce Springsteen reference. In this particular town, the sister of Cleo O’Callahan (Regan), turns up dead on the floor of a bar bathroom, her throat cut. Worse yet, Cleo and her BFF Robin (Willis) come across the bloody scene, after being alerted by the police activity. Who was responsible? Francis Macheath (Monaghan), the traveler to whom the sister owed money? Robin’s stalkery brother, Virgin (Gleeson), who had a bit of an unhealthy obsession with the dead girl? Or is the truth even more unpleasantly close to home? It matters, because Cleo has no confidence at all in the local cops’ ability to solve the class, and since she’s an Olympic-level shot, has the capacity to back up her bold statements of revenge. The question is, at what cost?

If Italian genre entries are known as “spaghetti Westerns”, does that make this a “potato Western”? Because there’s a lot here that seems to be borrowed by Ryan from the genre; while the landscapes may be a lot lusher than the Wild West, there’s no less lethal threats to be found, and Cleo’s taciturn shooter, out for vengeance, is only about a cheroot and some stubble from being Clint Eastwood. The film is actually not very concerned with revealing the killer – that particular aspect is answered very near the beginning, though I’m unsure if this could be a misstep, since it drains much potential suspense away. However, I get the feeling Ryan is much less concerned with “whodunnit” than why, as well as the question of how many more will end up falling victim to the resulting blood feud, and the toll it will eventually take on Cleo. Even though, there’s certainly a case to be made that Robin actually the more dangerous of the pair, thanks to her talent for manipulation.

There were elements that reminded me of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, which drew a picture of a similar teenage relationship, whose very intensity helped lead to tragedy. The two Emmas, of necessity, are leaned upon to carry a great deal of the picture’s weight, and they are both very good in their roles, especially when, as during the 10 minutes which form the nearly-wordless opening sequence, they are forced to act. Ryan is perhaps too fond of these artistic flourishes, which tend to distract as much as they enhance, and you also need to exhibit some patience with the film, working with its rural rhythms, which are some way from the genre standards. However, the reward is certainly worth the effort, with the settings and characters providing a fresh new twist on a familiar formula.

Dir: Patrick Ryan
Star: Emma Eliza Regan, Emma Willis, Brian Gleeson, Sam Monaghan

The Circle (Cirkeln)

cirklen

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“Into every generation, half a dozen or so chosen ones are born…”

The first in an intended trilogy, based on a popular series of books, this is set in the fictional Swedish town of Engelsfors, where the high-school is rocked after a student commits suicide in the bathroom. At the same point, six female students start to experience strange events, hinting at undiscovered powers: one can move objects with her mind, another can influence people, a third becomes invisible. Turns out they – as well as the dead colleague – are proto-witches, one of whom will eventually develop into the Chosen One, who will save the world from her evil nemesis. However, said nemesis is not sitting around, waiting for thus development: that “suicide” wasn’t a suicide at all, and it becomes clear the remaining six are just as much in danger.

This starts off in highly-impressive fashion, setting up its premise with elegant style. The film looks great, makes excellent use of music, both original and adopted (the soundtrack is by Benny Andersson of ABBA fame, who is also one of the producers, and there’s a particular cool montage set to Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill), and the special effects are nicely understates: director Akin doesn’t throw them at the screen for the sake of it, he uses them to enhance the film’s atmosphere as much as for show. However, the second half feels unnecessarily stretched: this runs 144 minutes, and probably shouldn’t. Perhaps the process of adaptation from the book needed to be more ruthless; you get the sense the film is trying to juggle too many characters, simply because they were in the original source material. As a result, they all suffer since, even at its significant length, the film doesn’t have the chance to explore them in any depth: they remain not much more than stereotypes, e.g. the Goth, the slut, the bullied, the swot. Maybe they are leaving this for the subsequent entries?

However, it works well enough as a standalone movie – more Harry Potter than Lord of the Rings – and still continues to provide a sleek and shiny source of mainstream entertainment. There’s more than a hint of Buffy here, and not just in the “Chosen One” concept and high-school location, also the idea that Engelsfors is some kind of Hellmou… er, portal for evil, as well the Witches’ Council who try to run things. As yet, neither of these last two aspects have been explored much, and I sense they will likely come into play more, down the road. I also got a distinct hint of Eko Eko Azarak too. It’s probably true to say that you may get more out of this if you have read the books, which I haven’t; I suspect a remake is only a matter of time, likely bringing nothing of note to the party. Bit of a mixed blessing to see countries attempt to ape Hollywood so shamelessly: I can’t help preferring films like Let the Right One In, which do their own thing. This is perhaps just too slickly commercial for its own good.

Dir: Levan Akin
Star: Josefin Asplund, Helena Engström, Ruth Vega Fernandez, Irma von Platen

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

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“Not exactly Harry Potter vs. Voldemort, shall we say”

mockingjay2Unlike the adventures of our schoolboy wizard, where the final installment took the most at box-office, this was the least successful of the Hunger Games movies. And I can see why: almost without exception, it’s a relentless downer, rather than a grandstanding finale. I have not, to this point, read the book on which it is based, so can’t say how accurately this cynical tone reflects the novel, but based on the movie, let’s just say, politicians as a species do not come out of it with a glowing portrayal! It begins immediately after the end of the events of Part 1, when Katniss (Lawrence) was attacked by brainwashed ally Peeta (Hutcherson). Meanwhile, the rebellion gains momentum and territory, as they head towards the Capitol. Katniss’s role is now as a ‘Joan of Arc’, a rally point, and she is sent into the Capitol as part of a propaganda squad. However, she subverts the mission, claiming secret orders to assassinate President Snow, although it becomes clear that the lines between “good” rebels and “evil” establishment are increasingly vague.

Perhaps more than in the other installments, it’s apparent here how good an actress Lawrence is, and how much this helps. Some of the scenes are extraordinarily impressive, such as her quietly talking to a loyalist soldier who has his gun jammed up underneath her chin. There are also some impressive moments of spectacle, such as her squad’s entrapment by a massive, rising flood of tar. Two hours of that, ending in Katniss delivering a monologue and shish-kebabbing President Snow, would I think, have been superior to the rather bloated two-parter we were given – even if it’s not as gratuitously over-stretched as The Hobbit. Still, even looking strictly at this final part, the last third (and given the film runs almost 140 minutes, that’s a fair amount of screen time)  feels more like reading the Very Deep political thoughts of a somewhat paranoid teenage boy. Virtually all nuance is replaced with the movie’s largely unsubtle whacking on the audience’s head with a copy of the script, when not tying up a love triangle, which has been an irritant for the entire series.

Even if none of the four entries managed to achieve our seal of approval (this one likely came the closest), you can’t argue with the success of a franchise which earned almost three billion dollars at the box-office worldwide, and countless more on DVD, etc. Depending on your definition, no action heroine film before this had taken even $140 million at the North American box-office; the lowest figure achieved here was more than double that. It has, unquestionably redefined the landscape and shown that, yes, girls with guns bows can hold their own in purely commercial terms. We can but hope that its success will open the door for other ventures, whether based on existing properties or fully-original ones. Though those will probably have to overcome the significant difficulty, of not having an Oscar-winner like Lawrence to anchor them. At least going by her ongoing work as Mystique in the X-Men universe, it doesn’t seem our genre’s biggest star now considers action to be beneath her – hopefully, that will continue. For there can be no question that throughout this, she was The Hunger Games’s biggest strength, and whatever its flaws overall, she gave us a Katniss Everdeen the character deserved.

Dir: Francis Lawrence
Star: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson

Chastity Bites

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“Not-so real housewives.”

chastitybitesA somewhat successful modernization of the vampire legend, it sees feminist wannabe journo Leah (Scagliotti) clashing with the popular clique at her high-school, under their queen bee Ashley (Okuda). Just as Leah is preparing a devastating expose on how the cool girls are planning a mass virginity loss, the ground gets pulled out from under her by the arrival of Liz Batho (Louise Griffiths), a counselor who begins a devastatingly successful abstinence program, the Virginity Action Group, into which Ashley and her cronies buy in, for their own ends. Liz also lures in the local moms, with her devastatingly impressive line of skin-care products. Leah digs into the past of Ms. Batho and thanks to a helpful tip from her Internet search engine (which is, at least, a first in cinematic plotting!), realizes Liz is – gasp! – Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who escaped being walled up in her chamber, and has roamed the world ever since, using the blood of virgins to sustain her youth. But since Leah’s relationship with local police soured following an article calling them racist, she’s going to have to stop the Countess using her own resources.

The results are sporadically funny. It’s a nice reversal on the usual horror trope of “have sex and die,” [albeit not the first: Cherry Falls already got there], and some of the characters are a hoot. Griffiths hits the spot just right as Bathory, combining elegance and threat with just a hint of Katie Holmes, and Okuda makes the Alpha Bitch far more rounded than most depictions [it took Chris to realize where we’d seen her before; she plays Tinkerballa in popular web-series The Guild] But she and Scagliotti are both clearly past high-school, well into their twenties, and so aren’t convincing teenagers. The heroine also appears to have eaten a dictionary, leading to dialogue that is both forced and not as witty as it thinks it is. Worst of all, I could have done entirely without Leah’s lesbian sidekick (Raisa), since her main purpose in the film appears to be to allow for embarrassingly-bad banter with her gal-pal.

It does make some nice stabs (hohoho) at social satire, in particularly the hypocrisy of high-school and American vs. European values, but it’s a bit too monotone in its approach. I did appreciate its almost entirely gynocentric nature. The only male character of note, is in the film mostly to ensure Leah is no use to the Countess, and when the chips are down, rather than rescuing anyone, is disposed of with ease, leaving Leah to face her immortal enemy alone. However, there remains too much of a problem with the heroine, who comes over for much of the movie as smugly PC, rather than someone with whom I’m interested in spending time. It’s this which restricts the film’s eventual success, leaving it as more of a respectable time-passer than an outstanding triumph.

Dir: John V. Knowles
Star: Allison Scagliotti, Louise Griffiths, Amy Okuda, Francia Raisa