In the opening shot of Girls Against Boys, director Austin Chick signals his intention to cast his movie in the vein of what passes for contemporary realism: Employing a handheld camera, he fixes a woman in a blurred-background close-up as she stares uncertainly at the viewer. For the rest of the film, Chick forgoes this realism in favor of a vividly impressionistic, vaguely fantastical world which simultaneously mirrors the protagonist’s sense of disorientation and menace, allowing the film to sidestep any real-world consequences to the on-screen action and hopelessly muddling the movie’s meaning so that whatever Chick had hoped to say about gender dynamics becomes lost in a gory haze.
Essentially a horror movie in which the source of the horror shifts from capital-M men to crazed lesbianism, the film literalizes its titular conflict as college student/bartender Shae (Danielle Panabaker) has a couple of really bad experiences with the opposite sex at the same time she makes the acquaintance of the vampish Lu (Nicole LaLiberte). After being dumped by her older, married lover and enduring the casual sexism of male patrons at her upscale bar, Shae is offered succor by Lu, who takes her out clubbing. But that experience leads to more misery, as our unfortunate heroine is raped the next morning outside her apartment building by one of the men she met at the club. After enduring another near rape by her ex-lover and the subsequent indifference of the police when she tries to report the earlier crime, Shae is more than ready to undertake Lu’s brand of extra-legal justice, which includes murdering and, in one particularly brutal case, torturing, every man they come in contact with.
Employing dramatically dimmed lighting, concocting a sinister audio mix that combines drones, dance beats, and barely heard snippets of conversation, Chick successfully turns the scenes of lower Manhattan’s nightlife (a hip dance club, a loft) into a nightmare space that teems with peril. While this sense of danger makes for fleetingly exciting filmmaking, it turns into a highly questionable approach as it all plays as the prelude to Shae’s eventual rape—especially when that act of violation is performed off screen while Chick pathetically lingers on a cutesy Pokémon-like keychain in the foreground. It becomes even more dubious when victimhood gives way to revenge and Chick’s surreal portrayal of New York’s diseased subconscious continues, this time embodied in the amoral Lu and Shae’s sinister, previously untapped impulses.
As the two go on their killing spree, the resultant deaths are presented matter of factly with little sense of excitement. There’s no indication that we’re meant to be titillated by these deaths, and in fact we seem called on to disapprove of such an out-of-proportion response. But all this seems like circular logic. The argument runs something like this: Men, but not all men (as it’s later revealed), can be horrible people, and as a solution, one could just kill them, though this is probably a bad idea.
But who ever thought otherwise? Because the film maintains a dreamlike atmosphere, it’s almost possible to read the events as taking place in Shae’s imagination or to view Lu as a projection of Shae’s darker impulses. But except for the fact that the police never come calling to investigate their crimes, there’s little in the film to support the initial hypothesis and just a few stray hints to suggest the latter. This is especially true when the movie’s ending insists on what can only be viewed as a homophobic reading of the events. As a psychological exploration of the consequences of male aggression, the film thus cancels itself out, leaving us with blood, guts, and dismemberment—and the idea that the real threat is not rape-hungry men, but a too-strong bond between women.