Australian indie-thriller, Bad Girl (2016), was released ‘Down Under’ just over a year ago. The small thriller is now finally available on Canadian streaming platforms, albeit with very little buzz. Since Bad Girl was filmed and released, star Samara Weaving has begun building a strong reputation with roles in last fall’s Netflix release, The Babysitter, and the over-the-top office horror film, Mayhem.
At the start of Bad Girl, Amy, a troubled 17-year-old girl, is picked up by her adoptive parents following a stint in a juvenile detention facility. With their relationship at a breaking point, her adoptive parents move Amy out to a new home in a rural community for a last chance. Initially, Amy is defiant and only seems interested in re-connecting with friends from her old home. Things take a turn for the moody and sullen Amy when she meets neighbourhood girl, Chloe. The two girls form an instant connection that seems to ground Amy. But Chloe may not be who she claims, putting Amy and her adoptive family in danger.
Derivative Plot and Familiar Storytelling
Bad Girl was written and directed by Fin Edquist, whose most notable writing credit to date is working on long-running Australian television series Home & Away. Even just a quick glance at the synopsis for Bad Girl should draw some quick comparisons to similar films. In particular, the Australian indie-thriller draws much of its basic plot structure from the physiological thrillers that dominated the North American box office in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Specifically, Edquist’s film has some elements of The Good Son and Drew Barrymore thriller, Poison Ivy.
That is, much of Bad Girl’s basic storyline is formulaic. Troubled teen meets a seemingly ‘good’ friend who is both a positive influence and source of emotional support. Parents of the troubled teen are happy and relieved. As the story progressively unfolds, we slowly discover that the ‘good’ friend isn’t who they claim to be and may have nefarious intentions. Everything culminates in a climax where our troubled protagonist must re-connect with their family to protect them. Not much in Bad Girl deviates from this formula.
Emotional and Powerful Performances Elevate Bad Girl
She adds layers to a character that could have felt like a stereotype, giving audiences a complicated character with whom it’s easy to empathize.
While Bad Girl’s story is formulaic, the thriller is bolstered by amazing performances from its lead actors. Both Sara West and Samara Weaving, as Amy and Chloe, respectively, deliver performances that are emotionally engaging. West, who had a small role in Ash vs Evil Dead, is thoroughly believable as a troubled teen. She adds layers to a character that could have felt like a stereotype, giving audiences a complicated character with whom it’s easy to empathize.
Likewise, Samara Weaving continues to shine in the genre. To date, Weaving has appeared in The Babysitter and Mayhem, and she continues to prove herself an actress to watch in Bad Girl. Weaving ensures that Chloe doesn’t get labeled as the generic ‘crazy female villain’, adding depth and sadness to the character. The strength of West and Weaving’s performances make their emotional connection and what follows a powerful centerpiece to the film, elevating it above its familiar plot.
An Atmospheric Indie Thriller That Haunts
As a director, Edquist creates a hazy and moody atmosphere that recalls other strong indie thrillers like Super Dark Times. At a superficial level, Bad Girl’s story is derivative but it elicits a feeling as you watch it that is thoroughly engaging and, at times, almost entrancing. On a couple of occasions in the film, viewers are taken into Amy’s dreams and these scenes mix colour and lighting in hypnotic ways. The film’s minimalist score, by Warren Ellis, creates a similar dreamlike vibe throughout the film.
While Bad Girls is atmospheric, it lacks any real scares or tension. And in the film’s climax, there certainly should be much more tension, particularly given the emotional investments audiences are likely to have with the characters. Edquist also struggles somewhat with filming more action-oriented moments. These scenes are poorly framed, missing much of what’s going on, and they feel jerky.
Familiar Story-Telling With Haunting Atmosphere
On one hand, Bad Girl’s basic story should feel instantly familiar to most viewers. The film’s screenplay doesn’t offer much new to a worn plot structure. Yet Bad Girl is an emotionally engaging film that is lifted by Edquist’s knack for creating a minimalist and moody atmosphere and strong performances from West and Weaving. It’s the film’s ability to elicit emotions that will draw in viewers regardless of its adherence to genre convention and lack of real tension.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B