Studio: Entertainment One Films
Director: Trevor Matthews, Jon Knautz
Writer: Nick Gordon
Producer: Nick Gordon, Cory Neal, Trevor Matthews
Stars: Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco, Alyson Bath, Elysia Rotaru, Chasty Ballesteros, Alice Hunter, Wesley MacInnes, Erin Agostino, Nicole Fox, Zuleyka Silver, James Thomas, Slaine
A masked madman targets the ladies housed in a high-tech mansion built for voyeur porn when his online advances are rejected.
Even the healthiest of diets allows a cheat meal to indulge in empty calories or a fast food fix every now and then. Following a similar line of thought, genre moviedom is a diverse enough world that even formulaic fright films can satisfy as a side serving when balanced sensibly with heartier horror entrees offering more substantial nutrition. That’s an overly wordy metaphor for saying that although “Girl House” won’t be kickstarting the next uber-lucrative film franchise, its streamlined approach to slick slasher style can still tickle a palate in the same way that a wine snob enjoys a slug of Charles Shaw when no one is around to judge.
Cute coed Kylie needs quick cash for college, and there is no faster way than taking off her clothes online. Kylie has no interest in pole dancing per se, and prostitution is out of the question. But the professional polish and elite allure of Internet venture Girlhouse has a hook that is hard to resist.
Outfitted with state of the art technology and a “Big Brother” camera grid, Girlhouse touts itself as the crème de la crème in voyeur fantasy. Customers can login 24/7 and play Peeping Tom by cycling through the system and spying on the girls as they shower, sleep, eat, swim, and of course striptease. The girls get to live in a posh mansion and are only required to engage in private chats and webcam dances. If they want to bring home a boyfriend/girlfriend or go at it solo for an even better payday, additional sexcapades are entirely optional.
Since there is no telling how many anonymous clients might be perverted psychopaths, Girlhouse pulls out all stops to protect the privacy of its half-dozen honeys. The mansion’s physical location is top secret. The technology is hack-proof. As far as horror movie premises go, this of course means that the technology will be hacked and the mansion compromised by a computer-literate Leatherface ready to slash the stars out of his sexual frustration.
No, the concept behind “Girlhouse” won’t raise respect regarding its depth. And yes, the film wades in still shallower waters when it comes to typecasting and tropes. Loverboy, the masked maniac of “Girlhouse,” is always depicted pre-disguise as sweaty and sullen, navigating each mouse click from a typically dank and gloomy basement that could double as Buffalo Bill’s dungeon. Ominous slow zooms on corner-mounted cameras dissolving into close-ups of the killer’s eye are on the nose in their symbolism. And it is easy to groan out loud when a flailing foil whacks once with her weapon and immediately turns her back after the madman hits the floor.
Yet where “Girlhouse” pleasantly surprises is in the areas where it is atypical. For a premise with a porn site at its center, the sexuality is not even close to being as tawdry, lewd, or salacious as one might presuppose. A bargain basement version of this same idea would be an excuse to simply feature naked women on camera and appeal to the lowest common denominator of slasher film fan. “Girlhouse” is actually tasteful (mostly) with its teases of nudity, showing a respect not just for its own screenplay, but also for an audience no longer eager to gulp down T&A tripe like it is after midnight on Cinemax in 1993.
The cast is genuinely on point, too. Once again, it would have been an easy copout to cast according to who was easiest on the eyes and funnel the film straight to video with minimal effort. “Girlhouse” instead cobbles together a cast of attractive actresses capable of more than lifting a shirt or shrieking a scream. Ali Cobrin is virtually impossible to not like as Kylie. She has a side romance with Adam DiMarco’s character that comes together conveniently fast, but their personalities are endearing enough that the presences put into their parts smooth out the movie’s more predictable beats.
“Girlhouse” is also smarter than the average horror film in depicting its victims as resilient and resourceful rather than as blubbering bodies begging for a butcher’s blade. One would-be victim escapes her predicament so craftily that it makes her ultimate demise all the more heartbreaking. Not all of the Girlhouse girls are as bright, but in the moments when they are, it is refreshingly satisfying.
“Girlhouse” boasts over 300 VFX shots, the majority of which go largely unnoticed. That total includes mostly simple things like text overlays or video graphics meant to simulate various camera feeds. The point in mentioning the number is to highlight the effort put into the production. Indie horror on this level is generally content to just point, shoot, and cut the raw footage directly onto a DVD. “Girlhouse” is legitimately interested in creating a worthwhile experience, even if it is a moderately familiar one, and the technical execution in the filmmaking pays dividends with its quality.
Throwaway elements, e.g. Kylie’s useless BFF, or rougher-edged bits (how is IT-tech genius Loverboy so awful at Photoshop?) may make it difficult to mentally laser off the movie’s warts and see the smooth skin underneath. The mild cautionary tale about online pornography and social media as a serial stalking tool is also too vague to bear any real weight. As such, “Girlhouse” probably carries more appeal to casual horror fans than to genre diehards who have seen too many similar movies to count.
But not every horror film has to be a game-changing epic. “Girlhouse” is reminiscent of the pretty people populated slashers from the 1990s that were en vogue after “Scream” and “I Know What You Did Last Summer” brought younger audiences to the Cineplex for horror. “Girlhouse” carves a place for itself in that category of “grab a drink and kick back” genre entertainment, and there is always room for one more film that fits that style and does it well.
Review Score: 70