‘Girls Against Boys’: The fairer sex gets even

January 30, 2013

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I found myself strangely compelled by Austin Chick’s “Girls Against Boys,” as much for what it doesn’t say as for what it does.

The film starts with a flash-forward, with a young woman named Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), sexually teasing a cop (Matthew Rauch) in a bedroom, then getting him to let her blindfold and handcuff him to the bed. Then she pulls out his gun – and as the vibe radically changes, the movie jumps into the past.

The focus, in fact, is Shae (Danielle Panabaker), a college student first seen being dumped by her married lover. That night, while tending bar, she’s obviously upset – and is approached by another bartender, who turns out to be Lu. Lu suggests that they go find some guys and party, to take Shae’s mind off her romantic problems.

That, however, goes wrong when the guy she meets winds up raping her the next morning. When Lu finds out later, she hustles Shae off to the police station – but the cops are unsympathetic and callous. So it’s time for a little female justice.

Lu and Shae track down the culprit by revisiting the apartment of his friends, where they’d been hanging out the night before – and then, well, all hell casually breaks loose. I say casually because Lu pulls out a gun and, after extracting the information from the rapist’s buddies, she shoots them. Then the two women track down the rapist and – well, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise but let’s just say it involves restraints and power tools.

It gets stranger and more violent from there. There’s not a lot of explanation – just the kind of understandable revenge that movies traffic in. Yet the tone is never sensational or overheated, though the images are sometimes graphic.

What makes it chilling is how matter-of-fact it all is and how much of the character comes through in virtually dialogue-free sequences. Set against a soundtrack that sounds almost industrial in its relentless insistence, Chick’s images – particularly of Shae contemplating either what has happened to her or what she’s thinking of doing – tend to focus on Panabaker’s face. She doesn’t talk about what she’s feeling but, in this film, she doesn’t have to.

If Panabaker is fascinatingly easy to read, LaLiberte is spookily opaque: a young woman with almost exaggeratedly large eyes and elaborate braids in her hair, whose dark impulses tend to shock without actually being surprising.

It would be too easy to dismiss “Girls Against Boys” as a simplistic horror-thriller, but there is much more going on here – though maybe not with the depth that Chick seems to think. Still, it’s a movie that seems full of sharp edges and unexpected turns, one that you probably haven’t seen before.

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