Vincent Ralph reviews the debut feature from Trevor Matthews.
At first glance, Girlhouse could be dismissed as another tired entry into the boobs-and-blood horror movie pantheon, but that would be doing it a considerable disservice.
The directorial debut of Trevor Matthews takes a simple premise and wrings suspense, comedy and social commentary out of it in equal measure, ensuring we are left with a film that entertains from beginning to end.
The premise is simple: The eponymous building is home to a collection of girls who flash their flesh for cash; an apparently safe haven that enables them to do what they do in private while simultaneously appearing in bedrooms and offices around the world.
It is the juxtaposition of being everywhere and nowhere all at once, but the mystery of their actual location goes from being the key selling point of those looking to move in, to the very thing that leaves them at the mercy of a man who does not take kindly to female rejection.
The film starts with a wonderful sequence that shows how the killer – Loverboy (played by Slaine) – got both his name and his taste for righting apparent wrongs and that opening displays a confidence from the filmmakers and a sense that this is not going to be just another slasher flick.
From there we meet Girlhouse’s newest resident, Kylie (a brilliant Ali Cobrin), and rather than getting straight down to business (both hers and ultimately Loverboy’s) we instead get to know the characters first.
Some are more rounded than others, but too many horror films think it is enough to go straight to the money-shot, showing little respect for either their characters or their audience, whereas Girlhouse fleshes everyone out to some extent before some meet their inevitable demise.
The film benefits most from Cobrin’s brilliant turn – with Kylie’s butter-wouldn’t-melt character realistically developing as the horror plays out and reacting accordingly – and Matthews' intelligent writing.
In another’s hands this could easily have been a 90-minute sleaze-fest, but much like the website in the film it is a considerably classier affair.
When the murders inevitably begin, the kills are not just slash-and-dash scenarios, and everything from the previous hour plays its part in what comes next.
Loverboy’s urgency is chilling as he literally bounds from room to room, his pace adding to the tension as women previously protected by the unknown element of their work are picked off while those watching switch from titillated to disgusted as they realise they are seeing far more than they logged on for.
That is one of the key aspects of Girlhouse; it is a movie about voyeurism in a world where everyone is a voyeur, even the girls who regularly log in to see what their housemates are doing.
Girlhouse is one of those hidden gems; a film that is more than the sum of its parts and deserves a wider audience. And as for Matthews and Cobrin (previously known for her role in American Reunion), on this evidence both are well worth keeping an eye on.
Girlhouse is released on DVD on Monday 20 July 2015