Girl Gone Bad (2022)

Rating: C+

Dir: Kevin Schultz
Star: Alison Thornton, Nemo Cartwright, Harrison Houde, Mauri Momose
a.k.a. Guiltless

I do have to say, this film has one of the most striking opening sequences I’ve seen. A teenage girl is speaking to her father, who’s about to head out for the night. The usual discussion about teenage activities, etc. ensues and then… Holy shit. I did not see that coming. Such is the joy of a film where nobody is particularly recognizable: it’s almost like the anti-Scream, where you were sure nothing could possibly happen to Drew Barrymore, because Big Star. Here, you don’t know recognize the star, so anything can potentially happen to anyone. It sums up the approach of the film in general, which seems almost willfully intent on confounding the viewer’s expectations.

When things eventually settle down, the focus is on Samantha (Thornton), a teenage girl left alone by her single parent. She seems to have her head screwed on, though the facile ease with which she lies to her guardian is, sadly, all too accurate. Then again, a lot about Samantha implies hidden depths. When the residence is broken into, she quickly and efficiently takes care of the home invader, Ron (Cartwright), who ends up tied to a chair in the basement. Turns out her house was no random choice for the crime. Ron has a very specific agenda, and once Samantha squeezes it out of him, she’s far from happy about it. The fact Ron is an off-duty cop does not make the slightest bit of difference.

Complications follow, both parental and of her own age. In the latter category fall Blair (Houde), a persistent pizza delivery boy with an amusingly poor line in patter, and Lexi (Momose), a schoolmate of Samantha’s, with whom she has issues. Ron is also not quietly accepting of his fate, though it feels like every escape attempt leaves him more badly damaged. It’s all quite brutal, with Thornton delivering a good performance, reminding me of Ellen Page in Hard Candy: there’s a similar combination of smarts and cruelty, which is disturbing. The problems are more motivational. Why Ron behaves as he does is unclear, and Samantha’s reluctance to call the police is never very convincing, as is the lack of neighbourhood reaction to some noisy violence.

I have questions about the logistics as well. There should be a dead body lying in the back-yard of Samantha’s house, by the time all has been said and done. What happened to it? A previous shot of Samantha looking up how to dispose of a corpse online (a stupid, stupid thing to do, incidentally) does not answer the question, since it’s not as if she could have driven it somewhere else. Moments of sloppiness like this take the overall experience down from the persistently grim and nasty heights, to which Schultz clearly aspires. It actually hits that spot for much of the time, mostly due to Thornton, and I’d not be surprised if she ends up going places, further than the basement.

[The film was released to VOD platforms in the US on July 11th, and in the UK on July 17th]