Director: Trevor Matthews
Cast: Ali Cobrin, Alyson Bath, Adam DiMarco, Alice Hunter, Wesley MacInnes, James Thomas, Elysia Roturu, Chasty Ballesteros, Nicole Fox, Zuleyka Silver and Slaine
Plot: Kylie (Cobrin) accepts a job as a webcam stripper to pay for her college bills, accidentally attracting the attention of an obsessed hacker.
Girlhouse sells itself a little short. Its plot makes it out to be little more than a sexploitation slasher flick, which, while a fairly good description of the movie, does conceal the fact that it is actually a very well-made horror thriller. The Girlhouse in question is an isolated mansion, owned by a entrepreneur in the porn industry. He hires a group of girls to live there and perform webcam shows to paying customers. This gives the clients not only the private strip shows, but the bits in between, where they go about their daily life – almost a cross between a porn channel and Big Brother. As a result, it virtualises the girlfriend experience, so you almost come to know the girls stripping for you in the shows. Of course, one slightly disturbed individual ends up being slightly scorned by the women, so he launches an one-man assault on the Girlhouse with catastrophic consequences.
It opens a little shakily, almost playing to the movie you think it is going to be, rather than the film it actually turns out to be. Ali Cobrin plays almost exactly the same character she does in Lapdance, a girl down on her luck financially, who turns to (remove lapdancing and replace with webcam stripping), as a means to get herself through college. This actually helped me get more into Girlhouse, because the introduction to Kylie is a little rushed and forced. It is much easier to get behind the desperation of her motives if you accept it as an extension of Lapdance. The supporting cast don’t get much luck, each given a personality (read porn genre – ie: the lesbians, the glamour model, the 50 Shades one…) and asked to hold up their characters with little more than that. While Kylie comes across as likeable, the other actresses, while charismatic and nowhere near the dud acting you used to get in this genre ten years ago, don’t have enough screen time to equate to anything more than ‘naked red shirts’. What Girlhouse does incredibly well is its villain. Most directors would have kept him as that blinking cursor, the anonymity of the bad guy creating this ‘it could be anyone’ approach the horror genre loves so much. Trevor Matthews goes for the more complex option, actually taking some spare time to explore the psychology behind Loverboy, his crazed killer. From a disturbingly shot game of kiss chase that ends somewhat bloodily to a few scenes of his later life, Loverboy is built up to a tragic villain that, for a few brief moments, we actually sympathise with. He pathetically photoshops himself into photos with his favourite strippers (onto a much skinnier body, I might add, which was a nice touch), and treats private chat interactions as dates. Of course, before long, it all goes wrong and the anger that fuels his character is terrifying to behold. For a few seconds I was worried that Girlhouse’s flaw might be that the villain is actually more likeable than the girls he is going to kill, but when you see the extent of his psychotic rage, you end up squirming with panic as each new character becomes a target.
Suddenly the lack of developing on the supporting characters or Kylie’s backstory makes perfect sense. Matthews was saving time, so he could spend the last forty minutes of his movie perfecting the attack on the Girlhouse. As someone who has been watching the classic Friday the 13th movies fail to get the genre right, Girlhouse gave me all the thrills I had been wanting from the slasher flick. The scares come from the creeping psychological state of Loverboy, but there are a few good jump scares in the later sections of the film. The deaths are horrifically imagined, one use of a sex toy as a weapon bound to have the audience in states of unease. It is Matthew’s great direction that makes this segment so amazing to watch. As soon as you know that there are no limits with the gore factor, you begin to get transfixed by what you are watching. Nicole Fox is cornered in a sauna. Alyson Bath ends up giving a webcam show she wasn’t expecting to. For anyone that feels that the slasher genre has been missing a few tricks lately, you could do a lot worse than Girlhouse. I eagerly await to see Matthews’ next project.
Final Verdict: If you can ignore the sexualisation of the topic, the porn setting makes for a great slasher experience in Trevor Matthews’ fine-tuned thriller.