Australian offering Bad Girl (2016) screened at South Korea’s 21st Busan International Film Festival, which ran from 6-15 October 2016. The film is a taut, exciting thriller that boasts top-notch performances from its two lead actresses. Even as the plot peels back its layers and seems to head down certain seemingly predictable paths, writer and director Fin Edquist keeps the proceedings interesting and surprising in a film that had me captivated through to the final shot.
Amy (Sara West) is a troubled teenager who moves, against her will, with her adoptive parents to a model home in a remote rural area. She makes plans to have friends help her run away but they don’t come through. She drinks heavily and then walks on the rails of a bridge, contemplating suicide. As fate would have it, her neighbor Chloe (Samara Weaving) happens to be walking past this very bridge late at night and saves Amy from death.
Amy’s parents Peter (Benjamin Winspear) and Michelle (Felicity Price) hire Chloe as a housekeeper, and seem to be happy, as well as pleasantly surprised, when the two girls appear to get along with each other. Amy, a self-professed bad girl, involves countryside innocent Chloe in a car theft, and things escalate from there. Just how they do requires going into major spoiler territory, and Bad Girl is a movie that should be seen going in as fresh as possible. As a matter of fact, I’m warning you – make that imploring you – not to watch the trailer, which gives some major spoilers away.
Bad Girl holds many surprises, and at least one may seem rather familiar, but Fin Edquist’s screenplay offers plenty of original revelations. The thriller aspects of Bad Girl are tense and exciting, and the family drama elements serve to heighten viewers’ investment in the characters. As the stakes rise, parents Peter and Michelle react to events that go from frustrating to heartbreaking to gut-churning, wondering why Amy would act out in such terrible ways. In one emotional scene, Peter is ready to cut off their relationship entirely while Michelle is floored by his reaction. Scenes like this can make or break a film. Edquist’s dialogue rings true to life here, and the performances by Benjamin Winspear and Felicity Price do a great service to it.
Though both lead actresses do a fantastic job, Samara Weaving stands out in a fearless performance. Again, I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but suffice it to say that her character Chloe runs through a multiplicity of emotions and nails every one. Sara West also shows a wide range in her interpretation of Amy. Fin Edquist has written crackerjack arcs for these two characters that feel believable and are compelling to watch as they unfold.
The relationship between Amy and Chloe builds slowly but steadily. Edquist gives it time to breathe rather than rushing the two into being instant best friends. Amy is the aggressor, hinting – sometimes none too subtly – that she is interested in more than just friendship with Chloe, testing the waters with flirtation and sitting close together. By the time Chloe starts to make her feelings and intentions known, viewers have learned enough about these characters to be fully invested, and that is when the story slowly begins exposing the darkness under its layers.
Bad Girl is lensed terrifically by Gavin Head, who makes beautiful use of the rural area where the film is set. Warren Ellis’s score is as captivating in its more serene moments as it is when it throbs and pulsates.
Edquist’s Bad Girl is a nailbiter bolstered by technical excellence, a clever screenplay with a good share of the unexpected, and ace performances. It is currently on the film festival circuit and deserves to find a wide audience. As soon as the ending credits rolled, I instantly added it to my list of ten favorite genre films of the year.