An inexperienced, vulnerable young woman is the perfect character to push the mental limit of in a suspenseful thriller focused on the need for revenge. Shae, the main character in the new drama-thriller ‘Girls Against Boys,’ which is opening at the Quad Cinema in New York City on Friday, is one such enthralling example of a naïve college student who becomes emotionally fragile after a terror-filled weekend. The film’s writer-director, Austin Chick, skillfully fused the struggling protagonist’s strained emotions with intriguing sets that reflect her motivations, but unfortunately failed to develop any of the other characters’ inspirations in the process.
‘Girls Against Boys’ follows Shae (played by Danielle Panabaker), a New Yorker who tries to overcome her recent break-up with a married man, Terry (portrayed by Andrew Howard). After meeting one of her new coworkers, Lu (played by Nicole LaLiberte) at the bar where she works, the two go back to the apartment of several customers they meet. When one of the men, Simon (played by Michael Stahl-David), sexually assaults Shae, she seeks comfort from Terry, who also physically attacks her.
Shae subsequently reaches her breaking point, and is convinced by Lu to seek revenge on the men who tormented her. Together, the two women embark on a gruesome killing spree, terrorizing and brutally murdering not just their attackers, but all men who get in their way of happiness.
However, after a wild weekend of retaliation, the friendship between the girls shifts into a dangerous obsession. Lu can’t understand why Shae isn’t comfortable continuing their plans of murder and revenge. She won’t let anyone get in her way of maintaining her deadly and seductive control over her new friend, especially Shae’s classmate Tyler (portrayed by Liam Aiken), with whom she wants to start a normal relationship.
Chick made a commendable visual effort with his debut in the thriller genre. The filmmaker featured shabby, brazen locations throughout the drama, from the grungy bar where Shae and Lu work to the impersonal, industrial apartment of Simon’s friends, to truly emphasize the two women’s detached feelings from the men they’re seeking revenge on. Set decorator Lauren Heanes effectively didn’t fill any of the locations, particularly Shae’s apartment, with many personal belongings, which successfully showcased the protagonist’s feeling of isolation from society. The sparsely personally decorated locations continuously reflect Shae’s vulnerability, to both men who take advantage of her and friends who feel they can easily manipulate her feelings and actions.
Chick also effectively focused more so on Shae and Lu’s motivations and need for revenge instead of the actual killings. The filmmaker did include several shocking, gory sequences of the two women killing the men who wronged them, particularly in one scene where Lu unremorsefully saws off the feet of their victims while he was still awake. However, Chick rightfully instead decided to mainly focus on Shae and Lu’s interactions with, and feelings towards, each other, to truly showcase how people can so uniquely and distinctly mentally and emotionally react in the same situation.
While Chick created authentic sets that accurately reflect Shae and Lu’s emotions and motivations, his writing effort with ‘Girls Against Boys’s script wasn’t as effective in exploring the two women’s diverse intentions and feelings against each other. When Lu is first introduces herself to Shae and learns of her recent romantic troubles, she almost immediately wants to take revenge on Terry, without meeting him or trying to understand both sides of the relationship. Lu appears to be just as self-serving, and just as much of an evil antagonist as the men who terrorize Shae, as she shows no remorse or regret over the killings. She’s continuously trying to convince her new friend that they’re doing the right thing, but Chick offers no explanation for the character’s need for revenge.
Panabaker displays a somewhat more personal character backstory and development for Shae, showing how the protagonist’s growing vulnerability over not being able to believe in the true intentions of the men she encounters. She understandably seeks refuge with Lu immediately following her assaults, as her new friend promises her redemption in her self-worth and value, and promises a way for her to seek revenge on the men who hurt her. As Shae truly begins to see the true, sadistic nature of her new friend, she expresses her own regret over their killing spree, and tries to move on with her life.
Shae tries to form a new, normal relationship with Tyler, much to Lu’s despair, showing that she does want to put the weekend, and the despicable experience with her co-worker, behind her. Shae’s determination to break free from Lu’s hold is also emphasized by the fact that the police don’t seem to catch onto the fact that the two women were responsible for the crimes, even after Shae reported Simon’s assault of officers. While Chick’s decision not to include police searching for, and/or apprehending the two women, in the story is questionable, it does offer Shae a satisfying chance to truly start her life over again, and fix the reprehensible crimes she committed.
‘Girls Against Boys’ offers some surprisingly effective and memorable elements to the women’s revenge thriller subgenre. From the impersonal settings that showcase Shae and Lu’s detachment from men and the societal norm to Lu’s distinct lack of remorse over the killings that starkly contrast Shae’s guilt, Chick created two diverse, strong-minded lead characters. Unfortunately, the lack of any true character development in the two women fails to fully explain why they both felt compelled to resort to murder and revenge, which at times makes them both feel self-involved and unsympathetic.