By RUBEN DIAZ
Starring Lacey Cofran, Paula Marcenaro Solinger, Marcus Jean Pirae, Rachel Alig
Directed by Larry Wade Carrell
Written by Zeph E. Daniel
Sex trafficking, supernatural forces, and science collide in GIRL NEXT from director Larry Wade Carrell (The End of April) and writer Zeph E. Daniel (Dementia). It probably should more aptly be called “What The F: The Movie” as it takes viewers on a rollercoaster of strange, often violent, shenanigans.
Lacey Cofran (Neighbors & Friends) plays Lorian West, a beautiful young woman who’s out shopping one day when she’s kidnapped. Lorian wakes up in a farmhouse somewhere where she begins to meet the bizarre and deranged inhabitants. First, it’s Misha, played by Paula Marcenaro Solinger (Wisp), who’s the lady of the house. Misha’s wearing a dominatrix outfit and a look of authoritative scorn. Misha’s husband Heinrich (Marcus Jean Pirae) is a scientist and drug aficionado who rules over Misha how she rules over Lorian. The final character is another girl, Charlotte (Rachel Alig), who’s presumably in the same situation as Lorian but has a much different outlook on it all.
The strengths of GIRL NEXT are few and far between. The film is strange. As someone who enjoys weird, there’s plenty of it here. For 100 minutes, GIRL NEXT will throw a rape scene, a cult, a ghost clown, and a psychedelic mind manipulation sequence at you with little care for rationality. There’s no shortage of weird things to marvel at throughout the film. It all certainly feels like a modern take on a late ’70s psycho-sexual shock film: a mix of ideas straight out of Kubrick mixed with a wild assortment of cinematic spices.
GIRL NEXT looks nice on a scene-by-scene basis, too, with great colorwork and photography. But as good as the film looks, it suffers from a lack of budget or will to pull the camera back once in a while. The film is shot from medium-close to close and almost no other distance. On rare occasions, the claustrophobic feeling’s good. In most cases, though, it just makes the film feel crowded. The clean look of the film also doesn’t offer anything to the narrative. The story is selling a dirty, grimy world, but everything looks polished. No matter what is happening in a given scene, the makeup looks pristine, as if each actor is heading to a magazine photoshoot immediately after the take, minus a few splatters of blood.
It’s hard to talk about the narrative of GIRL NEXT because it doesn’t entirely make sense. Heinrich is “programming” girls to become “Sofia” dolls which are for sex. But Larian also has her mind warped into easily murdering people, so, perhaps assassination is an add-on feature. The town sheriff, played by director Larry Wade Carrell, is in on the whole operation, even testing out the product, if you will. It’s not clear what’s meant to be taken from the story other than what the plot is plainly offering.
Larian is a blank slate of a character. We don’t understand what her life was like before the kidnapping. While that’s not necessary to empathize with her horrible situation, it’s essential for the story to have some life. The tale of GIRL NEXT is confused, but add to that Cofran’s low-energy performance, perhaps due to under-directing, and you get 100 minutes of a film following someone that’s completely uninteresting.
The rest of the cast does a much better job of doing what they can to bring something to the material. I can’t imagine they had any idea what any of it meant. Motivations are all over the place. Rachel Alig’s Charlotte gets to have the most fun and perhaps the only real development of any kind in the film, and Marcus Jean Pirae’s Heinrich gets moments to shine, but it comes in short-lived spurts. The same is the case with Paula Marcenaro Solinger’s, Misha, who is married to a sex trafficker that she knows enjoys the product but gets jealous when he pays too much attention to one girl in particular.
The reason for Misha’s jealousy is just told to us repeatedly throughout. Larian is “special.” Why? Who knows. What does she do at the end that’s special? It’s so weird that I’d love to talk about it, but I can’t spoil it. Suffice it to say that GIRL NEXT goes to some peculiar places. Imagine a film inspired by A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut that’s blended with a dash of John Waters, heavy exploitation, and shot through digital lenses.
GIRL NEXT feels like a movie made hoping that it will someday end up on Red Letter Media’s “Best of the Worst” or somehow achieve cult status. Perhaps it all even makes sense after multiple viewings, but it’s not so weird in interesting ways that it warrants that kind of rewatch. Might it be fun at the moment with friends? Sure. There’s plenty of strange goings-on for the 100-minute runtime that something is bound to make viewers yell “What the F!” and then laugh a lot. Otherwise, it’s not funny, particularly engaging, or thematically deeper than what you see. It’s shock for the sake of it, it seems, and that can be fun on its own.
GIRL NEXT is now available to stream from Gravitas Ventures.