[Interview] Director Austin Chick On Avoiding Revenge Film Cliches In ‘Girls Against Boys’

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Anchor Bay Films will release director Austin Chick‘s Girls Against Boys in both New York and Los Angeles theaters tomorrow, February 1. The film stars Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th, The Crazies), Nicole LaLiberte (HBO’s “How to Make It in America”), Andrew Howard (Limitless), Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield), and Liam Aiken (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events).

In the film, “When Shae (Danielle Panabaker), a naïve college student, is tormented by several men in a matter of days, she reaches her breaking point, and is drawn into coworker Lu’s (Nicole LaLiberte) twisted plan for revenge. Together, the two embark on a gruesome killing spree, terrorizing and brutally murdering not just their attackers, but any man who gets in their way. However, after a wild weekend of retaliation, the friendship between the girls shifts into a dangerous obsession, and their perverse game becomes a desperate struggle for Shae to maintain control against Lu’s deadly and seductive influence.

I recently had a chance to catch up with Chick and we discussed what it’s like for a male to tackle such a female oriented story as well as his approach to avoiding the “broad strokes” of a typical revenge film. Head inside to check it out.

You wrote and directed the film, what was the seed of inspiration that made you want to explore this territory?

I’ve always been interested in the dynamics between men and women and the way two people can misunderstand and misinterpret each others intentions and how this can lead to someone getting hurt. Girls Against Boys might be part two in a “battle of the sexes” trilogy that started with XX/XY. Nobody gets be-footed in XX/XY but people definitely get hurt.

What’s your approach to maintaining the audience’s investment in the characters? Shae has quite an arc from victim to victimizer.

At the most fundamental level Girls is a coming of age story. Shae is transformed by her experience and it’s the transformation that I wanted to focus on, rather than the crimes.

What typical revenge movie tropes did you want to avoid with this film?

Revenge movies tend to be painted in very broad strokes. They’re usually populated by characters who are extremes – often even caricatures. By painting the world in this extreme black-and-white relief the protagonist is empowered with a moral righteousness which allows us, as viewers, to feel good about cheering them on as they slaughter the bad guys. It’s an exercise that allows us to indulge our own violent fantasies and it can make for a very satisfying viewing experience (as Tarantino has amply demonstrated), but rarely are situations in life this simple. With Girls Against Boys I was interested in exploring the grey areas – the collateral damage, the moral ambiguity, and the way violence effects the perpetrator as well as the victim. The violent impulse is complex and imprecise and rarely provides the kind of pure catharsis we want.

How was it working with Danielle Panabaker?

Working with Danielle is an absolute pleasure. She really understands the filmmaking process and she knows that sometimes a tremendous amount can be conveyed with very little. Girls is actually a sort of quiet movie in some ways. It’s not the bloody thrill ride that the log line might suggest. It’s more of an internal psychological journey, and it has a meditative quality, almost like a dark fever-dream. It’s the story of a girl going down a rabbit hole or through the looking glass which we actually do at one point in a shot toward the end of the movie. There are times when we linger on Shae (Danielle’s character) – especially during some of the more violent scenes – and as an actor Danielle was able trust herself and by doing very little she conveys a tremendous amount. That can be scary for some actors and it takes courage. She’s also a trooper. We had some really tough days, without much time or money to work with, and some of our crew was very green. A lot of days we were shooting out in the streets of New York without permits but Danielle was game for whatever I asked her to do. She was always prepared and she never complained.

Did you impose any steadfast rules upon yourself in terms of how you handled the violence? Were there lines you were afraid of crossing?

Throughout the process of making this movie I was acutely aware that I was a man depicting the experiences of a young woman. It’s my job as director to create a sense of authenticity whether I have first hand experience with something or not, but I was particularly sensitive to the rape scene. Too often the showing of a violent act merely serves to sensationalize it. I wanted to avoid that at all cost and chose, instead, to let the viewer’s imagination take over.

  • coldblood

    I hate the top picture, the one where its a close-up of the girl in the black dress legs and she’s holding a gun.

    She has meth-head legs. It’s kinda gross. Sorry.

  • lisey

    The director “wants to avoid cliches” yet has the two women using their sexuality/bodies to dupe men and then it’s suggested that one woman starts to seduce the other… ??? Is this guy serious? I can literally think of nothing MORE cliche than that.