Bad Girl

Australia | 2016 | Directed by Fin Edquist

Logline: A troubled teenage girl, prone to delinquency, moves into a new neighbourhood with her adoptive parents, is befriended by a clean cut local girl, but soon finds herself in dangerous waters. 

During the first fifteen or so minutes of this thriller - with a taste for horror - I was hopeful it would transform into something special, especially with its two leads, Sara West, who plays Amy, the seventeen-year-old with a history of foster homes and drug and alcohol abuse, and Samara Weaving (Hugo's niece), who plays Chloe, the same age, a very pretty girl whose past is shrouded in mystery. The two actors have different kinds of charisma, and they both provide the movie with a strong surface appeal. But, unfortunately, it’s not enough. 

Amy has arrived in a rural Aussie township called Serpentine (yup, apparently it’s a real place) with her two adoptive parents, Peter (Ben Winspear) and Michelle (Felicity Price), who’ve had her since she was twelve. She’s been hard work for them, and they’re at the end of their tether. Amy has one last chance to prove she can be a trusted. The new, modern home is one of Ben’s own architectural projects, and is due to to be sold for a tidy sum. 

Amy wants out immediately, and in the dead of night she slips away, intent on rendezvousing with her city friends, but they bail on her, and, tanked on booze and high on ice, Amy decides jumping off a bridge is the best response. She’s saved by Chloe, her neighbour, who had come around earlier in the day hoping to score a housecleaning job. There’s an immediate connection between the two girls. They may be chalk and cheese, but sometimes opposites attract. 

Bad Girl wants to be taken seriously, and it plays its game very earnestly, but the problem lies with the screenplay, which becomes less and less convincing, and more convoluted, the deeper it delves into the secret agenda of one of its leads. It doesn’t help that the characterisations of the two parents are shallow and rather thankless, which is further hampered by less-than-impressive performances from both the adult actors (I know they’re capable of better work, but they’ve got slender bones to chew on). 

By the time the truth is revealed all plausibility has been thrown out the window. Single White Female meets Fatal Attraction meets Bad Influence meets My Summer of Love, except all those movies are very convincing, even if they are far-fetched, and while Bad Girl nods to all those movies, it fails to conjure much empathy with either of its two adolescent leads, whose connection and relationship manipulation the narrative is hinged on, or the kind of nerve-rattling suspense it demands. 

Perhaps if director Edquist had played more of the horror card, and less of the lustful romance card (where the hell did that come from?!), then maybe Bad Girl might’ve risen above its own shortcomings, it’s own young adult soapy trappings. It certainly needed to be a lot more brutal than the genre kid gloves it was handling it with. But props must go to Warren Ellis for the brooding, electronic score, even if it was underused. His minimalist approach certainly lifts the game of Bad Girl and gives the movie a bit more of that sharp edge it craves.