GirlHouse. 2014. Directed by Jon Knautz & Trevor Matthews. Screenplay by Nick Gordon.
Starring Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Slaine, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Alice Hunter, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Arianna Fox, Zuleyka Silver, Wesley MacInnes, and Erin Agostino. Brookstreet Pictures.
Rated 18A. 99 minutes.
Touted as a Halloween-style slasher for the digital era, GirlHouse is a pretty decent modern slasher. Whereas most low-budget slashers incorporate nudity to sell their film, this one actually finds its story and plot based around nudity, in a way. Taking the slasher horror movie into the issues of modern day, directors Jon Knautz and Trevor Matthews show us what happens when a deranged young man becomes lonelier and lonelier, only able to turn to technology for comfort, and he meets a young woman simply trying to get by in today’s ever increasing capitalist world.
While I don’t think GirlHouse says anything massively profound, I do believe it takes the slasher horror movie and makes good use of the sub-genre to craft something decently fresh, and absolutely a whole lot of terrifying fun. Giving us a relatable and understandable story to start, the film shows its fair share of nudity and sexuality, however, underneath there is a story, there are decent characters, and we’re introduced to one of the most villainous, eerie horror movie slashers that has come around in awhile. A few flaws set the film back – mainly, even though the story calls for a little, there’s too much focus on full-frontal nudity. Aside from that, though, I found myself enjoying all the other aspects of GirlHouse and it’s definitely a movie I’d watch again when in the mood for a good and savage slasher.
GirlHouse tells the story of Kylie Atkins (Ali Cobrin), a young woman who needs money for tuition, and general living – we get the impression her mother needs help back home, her father having recently passed. Such a relatable story for many, as well as one very familiar to everyone.
In a quest to find reliable employment, and something to actually pay very well, Kylie moves into GirlHouse – a house with a bunch of women streaming live content for a website jammed with horny men subscribing to watch them on camera. Moving in, at first she finds everything is luxurious and a bit of fun. However, once an insane fan hacks their system to try and locate where GirlHouse actually is, Kyle will find not everything in her new home is fancy and fun and full of cash.
The opening scenes absolutely floored me. No matter how you feel about the rest of the film, you’ve got be able to admit the sequence at the film’s start is some downright shocking horror. It isn’t too bloody or anything – just enough in fact. What it is, though, is beyond unsettling. The unfortunate young girl from the flashback cold open is Camren Bicondova – most people will recognize her nowadays from her stint on Gotham as a young Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman – and I think having her as a character, albeit a brief one, helped immensely. Whether you like the prequel show to Batman and Gotham City’s villains, she is undeniably a good actress. Here, coupled with the disturbed and jilted Young Loverboy (Isaac Faulkner), it’s one whopper of a sequence to start GirlHouse rolling. It’s a horror movie which sets its tone immediately. You know, regardless of story, there’s going to be some misguided revenge killing on behalf of poor Loverboy.
Honestly, for a while I thought overall GirlHouse was going to be all softcore porn. There’s a lot of skin, no doubt. Even an actual bunch of straight up full-frontal nudity. Yet amongst all the female bodies and the whole concept of the GirlHouse, there’s more to the movie than just showing off sex.
I was afraid that the film and the script would stray towards maybe making it a situation where these women in the house, showing themselves on camera, would end up being punished for their sexuality. Because I’m not the type who finds anything like that interesting. There’s so much hypocrisy in the idea that millions of men jack off to women online, then many turn around and believe that women “like that” are “asking” for any sexualized violence/et cetera which comes their way.
On the other hand, GirlHouse begins to take apart some of the issues surrounding the digital age and the streaming content from girls behind their laptops going into the millions of homes of men around the world. For instance, I thought it was a nice touch to have the owner of GirlHouse – a man you’d expect to be a greasy, exploitative pimp-like character – be a gentlemanly gay man. I thought, for the longest time until we see a scene with him in bed with another man, that he was some sleazy dude running another website taking advantage of poor young women trying to find a job that isn’t minimum wage while they’re trying to start their lives and make their way in the world.
What I found most interesting in terms of what the movie actually tries to examine, re: internet culture, is the bystander effect, I believe it’s called. As some of the pervy dudes watch on live streaming camera while the first girl is hacked up and tortured, neither of them really do anything because they all assume someone else will, if in fact what’s happening is real.
This is where one of the characters – Ben Stanley – comes into play a little more than simply a love interest for Kylie (I’ll go into this a bit further shortly). He is one of the only people who truly cares about Kylie, instead of being another horny guy watching her online, and so this helps up the stakes a little more. Not to mention the fact Ben’s involvement gives the story more action.
One thing I was hugely impressed by is the performance of Slaine, a.k.a George Carroll. I’ve seen him before in stuff like Killing Them Softly, The Town, and particularly Gone Baby Gone which I really enjoyed him in. He has that street type sense about him in most of what I’ve seen. Except here, there’s a way different sensibility about him. Slaine takes on the character incredibly. Even in the few scenes where we first see Loverboy grown up, his performance is silent – only speaking through typed words initially – and whoa, is it ever intense! The way he breathes and stares into the screen, he almost shakes with excitement building inside him. It is incredible work, I must say. Excellent casting choice for the role of Loverboy.
It isn’t only Slaine’s performance as Loverboy I find excellent. The whole character itself is disturbing. Starting with that opening sequence, we get a view into the deranged world of a slighted young man who grows up into a depraved, perverse serial killer. Once things move forward and we get a look at Loverboy’s mask, it’s seriously creepy and weird as hell. I couldn’t get enough of how unsettling the mask/get-up is and it’s immediately scary. Not to mention the fact Slaine is a big fella to begin with, and underneath the mask, his coveralls from work, there is a menacing, foreboding presence to him physically. So in the way characters like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees are similarly scary due to their size and stature, Loverboy is also a terrifying man. For slashers, the mask and/or their gimmick is always a key element. I think GirlHouse succeeds enormously in this department, as Loverboy is a cross between Leatherface and Michael Myers, but not merely a copy; he is a haunting entity all of his own.
Furthermore, I think the addition of the Ben Stanley (Adam DiMarco) character really made the story of the film more interesting. Having the childhood crush Ben has on Kylie become a part of the movie gives more depth to characters and it makes things a little different than the typical slasher. Not to say it’s totally new or innovative, it’s simply the fact there is more than girls stripping on camera to watch – we actually have story. This helps to ratchet up the tension in terms of Kylie’s story as well because we see her starting to connect with him, even after he seems rattled slightly by the fact she is a member of GirlHouse. Once their relationship begins, this is also where terror slowly sets in.
For a relatively low budget compared to so many other horror movies out there – just shy over $3-million – I find that GirlHouse uses it so effectively. What I imagine is that most of the budget ended up going to whatever the paid for that house, whether they rented it or whatever, as well as the bit of technology that went into making the film in terms of GirlHouse being rigged up with cameras, and all the other stuff.
In terms of makeup effects there’s not much onscreen blood or gore. That being said, the few intense onscreen kills and gory scenes are well-done. They certainly did not slouch on the effects, regardless of where the bulk of the budget ended up going.
My favourite is when Devon (Alyson Bath) is attacked by Loverboy – the chopped up hands are viciously well-executed. Then the hacksaw cutting scene goes down pretty savage; without happening too explicitly, there’s a gnarly, wicked shot of a bloody head falling to the floor between Loverboy’s legs. These two bits alone are enough horror to satisfy the gore hounds.
All in all, I’ve got to give this a 4 out of 5 stars. In terms of slasher horror, I definitely think this is one of the best I’ve seen in the last few years. Honestly. I mean, I could do without the nudity personally; I don’t worry about a little, but even for a movie centred around a house of women streaming stripteases (etc) online there was SO MUCH.
Not every last bit of GirlHouse is perfect, not at all. Some of the acting wasn’t exactly stellar. But most importantly, the main characters – Kylie, Ben, and Loverboy – were handled incredibly well, in my opinion. A slasher movie can get truly awful if the acting is abysmal, something that has happened time and time again over the years. Particularly in lower budget films. Luckily for this one, the actors who matter here all bring their A-game.
If you’re looking for a nasty slasher villain, rough horror kills, and some competent/interesting characters, then I think you can do much worse than GirlHouse. There’s a lot to like, if you give it a chance. Definitely subverted my expectations, even right off the bat with its opening scene. Hopefully others might feel the same.