Troubled teen movies haven been a Hollywood staple since James Dean donned that famous red leather jacket in Rebel Without a Cause. Each generation seems to get their own take on ‘alienated adolescence.’ Thought it flew under the radar, Australian indie-thriller Bad Girl is now streaming on several VOD-platforms. Based on promotional materials, the Aussie thriller looks like it’s mining the same terrain as movies like Poison Ivy or Thirteen. With one of Bad Girl’s principal stars, Samara Weaving, enjoying some recent successes, interest in this ‘Down Under’ tale of troubled teens may attract a larger audience.
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.
Bad Girl Limited By Derivative Plot and Storytelling
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. At least that seems to be the approach writer and director Fin Edquist takes with Bad Girl. To date, Edquist’s most notable writing credit is working on long-running Australian television series, Home & Away. Maybe it’s not surprising then that just a quick glance at Bad Girl’s official synopsis should sound familiar. In particular, the Australian indie-thriller draws much of its basic story from the psychological thrillers from North American theaters in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Specifically, Edquist’s shares DNA with The Good Son and Drew Barrymore thriller, Poison Ivy.
… much of Bad Girl’s basic storyline is formulaic.
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 unfolds, we slowly discover that the ‘good’ friend isn’t who they claim to be and may have ‘bad’ 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
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. The result is a a more complicated character than what you might expect. Audiences will be able to empathize with Amy, which serves to heighten the movie’s third act tension.
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 a couple of fun horror movies, The Babysitter and Mayhem. In Bad Girl, Weaving continues to prove she’s an actress to watch. Courtesy of Weaving’s performance, Chloe never feels like the generic ‘crazy female villain’ found in movies like The Crush or Single White Female. Instead, Weaving gives her character some depth and sadness. 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. In spite of its somewhat derivative nature, Bad Girl recalls other strong indie thrillers like Super Dark Times. There’s a hazy dreamlike quality to the movie that engages and, at times, feels 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. Moreover, the movie’s minimalist score, by Warren Ellis, creates a similar dreamlike vibe.
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.