Bad Girl Boogey


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bad Girl Boogey
"The whole thing has the energy and bravado of early Eighties slasher films, when the rules of the genre were still being written."

Moral panics about LGBTQ+ people happen in waves. When hostility is whipped up within a population, life at the sharp end gets really difficult. A few years later, things start to improve, and casual aggressors offer friendship, saying that they have now learned the error of their ways. Give it another decade or two and the whole thing starts again. This has a lot in common with the cycles of violence which we see in certain types of horror film. Stephen King endeavoured to provide an explanation in It, but the pattern is a common one, also showing up in the likes of the Halloween, Nightmare On Elm Street and [39930]Slumber Party Massacre[/film] franchises. In Bad Girl Boogey, teenage writer/director Alice Maio Mackay brings these two elements together as her protagonist faces a bigoted assailant who may have a connection to a past incidence of mass murder, and to the supernatural.

That protagonist is Angel (Lisa Fanto), a young queer woman whose mother was murdered in mysterious circumstances one Halloween, 16 years previously. The incident involved a sinister mask, and when a new spate of homophobic and transphobic attacks begins, committed by somebody wearing the same mask, she gradually becomes convinced that the key to protecting her community in the present must lie in exploring the past. This means following a series of obscure clues and visiting the location where the previous murders took place – but in doing so, is she making herself still more of a target?

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This is Mackay’s second feature, after 2021’s So Vam. She cut her teeth on shorts and many elements of this film look more in line with what one would expect from a music video. The central idea is strong but there’s not much to support it at a narrative level, and the film tends to meander. Perhaps this is, in part, deliberate. Mackay seems less interested in the killings themselves than in their effect on the already troubled Angel, who segues between drug-addled despair and a kind of vitality prompted by desperation. The uneven camerawork neatly captures her mental state and the chaotic nature of her world. Club sequences with minimal dialogue and garishly lit montages have a surprisingly immersive effect. Whether or not you initially relate to her gang of gothy highschoolers, you’ll soon be au fait with what’s normal to them, and with how jarring it is when violence disrupts that. This is not just a matter of grief, but of disorientation.

There is minimal gore. Mackay makes effective use of suggestion and uses simple effects to a purpose rather than feeling the need to break new ground. This keeps the film on track as it explores issues around internalised prejudice, self-doubt and the visceral attraction of violence as a release. There are no twee speeches to drive this aspect of the narrative, but Mackay understands the genre well and knows how to utilise its tropes to make her points. The notion that the mask “sets you free” has obvious relevance to online anonymity but is also a comment on any number of past franchises and to the fear of various kinds of face coverings which has proliferated in various parts of the media over the past few years.

Given the age of the cast and crew and their limited resources, it won’t surprise you that the film is pretty rough. Some of the acting is, well, thespianically challenged, and the story has a tendency to move in leaps and bounds without necessarily bothering to keep viewers updated. Mackay clearly knows what she’s doing as a director, however, and the whole thing has the energy and bravado of early Eighties slasher films, when the rules of the genre were still being written. If you’re a fan of such work, you’ll be left looking forward to seeing Mackay’s work develop. She has a clear voice and a style which makes no apology for anything. Bad Girl Boogey may not be amongst the year’s most accomplished horror works, but it bodes well for the future of the genre, and we need more like it.

Reviewed on: 02 Jul 2023
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When a killer starts targeting her community, a young queer woman realises that they're wearing the same mask as the person who killed her mother decades before.

Director: Alice Maio Mackay

Writer: Alice Maio Mackay, Benjamin Pahl Robinson

Starring: Lisa Fanto, Prudence Cassar, Steven Nguyen, Toshiro Glenn, Lewi Dawson, Georgie Cufone, Chris Asimos, Em Bleby

Year: 2022

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Australia


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