Ron Perlman (Hellboy) stars as the resident Catholic priest in this horror flick from director Warren P. Sonoda set in a reform school. When five troubled teenage girls are sent to the academy, they expect to clash with their keepers — what they don’t expect is that their keeper will be a demon named Legion who holds the institution in thrall. Luckily for the girls, they possess unique powers that enable them to battle the ancient ghoul.
All-girls’ haunted Catholic reform school story in which the girls have psychic superpowers. Short skirts. Too much eyeliner. Superpowers. Sadistic blond headmistress with a ruler. Possesions. Demons. Alcoholic ineffective priest. Very short skirts. Tight white shirts. Psychic superpowers.
Okay, if you, Gentle Reader, are not lured in by what I’ve said so far, then you are probably not going to like this film. Because it doesn’t offer much more than that. Jordan Madley is probably the best of the Teen Girl actresses, as Mara. (The juvenile delinquent thief with a fondness for knives and prescription drugs, who is a psychic healer.) Unfortunately, she’s not the lead. Jennifer Miller’s Alex (the telekinetic with daddy issues) has a lot more screen time and is less charismatic. Ron Perlman, who must have owed somebody on the crew a favor, gets all the billing but is, honestly, kinda phoning it in. Which I can’t really blame him for. The script is not great.
But the writer/director, Warren Sonoda, has done something pure, here. Pure and gleeful id, to be sure. This movie is a cross between the movie The Craft, The Exorcist, every reform school girl / women in prison movie ever, and the X-Men comics. Or, more accurately, the premise from those comics of teenagers having secret powers. And, for that thing, it hits every mark. There is a lengthy strip-search scene. A show-and-tell in which the girls all find out about each others’ powers. Scenes in which demonic ooze penetrates sleeping girls. A bit where the girls cast spells. A scene where the headmistress spanks one of the girls. A power-walk of telekinetic fury. Attempted seduction of the priest. Almost-kissing moments between the girls.
It really hits every mark.
I love this movie.
As a movie watcher, a comic reader, a reader of fiction and non-fiction, there are times when I appreciate subtlety and complexity. Times when I want to be challenged. But there are other times when I want to watch 20-something actresses in really short skirts pretending to be delinquent high school girls with superpowers.
See, here’s the thing.
I was a high school girl. At a boarding school for geeks. I was variably delinquent; not as much as some, more so than others. I spent more time than I really care to admit trying to acquire superpowers. I was deeply in love with many of my friends, and not out to myself. I frequently felt helpless, felt that bad things were happening to people I cared about, things I did not fully understand and could do nothing to prevent.
Now, these things were not demonic possession, certainly. But abusive relationships with parents, various forms of self-harm, and suicide attempts of differing sorts all appeared among my friends at points during my high school career. And, being a teenager, none of these things were really talked about fully, or explained, or processed, or handled particularly well by me. I recall trying, a couple of times, to find adult help. But it never seemed to work out. I didn’t feel helped.
The narrative I applied to this emotional landscape, the story I told to myself to make sense of things, was part Knights of the Round Table, part Mercedes Lackey Valdemar books, and part X-Men. My friends and I, we were a misunderstood band of Special, Chosen People who were persecuted for reasons vaguely relating to our Special Purpose and Powers. We couldn’t trust anyone outside of the group, because they wanted to use us for their own ends. (Digression: The motto of my boarding school at the time was “You are the Leaders of Tomorrow.”)
I’m not saying that this is an accurate representation of my high school years. I am saying that this is the story I told myself in order to make my life a sensible narrative. Which brings me back to 5ive Girls.
The narrative through-line of this very poor movie is “everyone is out to get you, there is no help, but you and your friends are strong and you will stand together and fight.” I like that theme in many, many forms, in many genres. I like this theme when it’s done really well — Seanan McGuire’s books, for instance — and when it’s done more ham-handedly. In, say, the mid-80s Claremont X-Men. Or when it’s done well and heavy-handed, as in the Mercedes Lackey ouvre.
In 5ive Girls, this theme is executed poorly. But it is still meaningful to me. And, in this film, the theme comes with short skirts.