From his rightly venerated run as James Cameron’s early-career go-to guy, it always seemed like Michael Biehn got cheated out of greater stardom. While not exactly a charismatic actor, he was always highly reliable as no-guff man’s man. He almost always played military men, which always suited him well, but his breakthrough role as Kyle Reese in the original Terminator showed that Biehn could bring more to a character than gritted-teeth exposition delivery. I’m not suggesting that he deserved to ascend to the A-List, but neither did he deserve to flame out in the ‘90s as much as he did.
Now Biehn has become something of a self-made man. He and his wife, producer Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, have created their own production company and now their own films. Their latest endeavor, the no-budget horror oddity The Girl, was filmed in 2014, yet is only finding release now. Give Biehn some credit for creating his own work instead of waiting for the phone to ring, but if this is indicative of the work we can expect from him, maybe fading away would be preferable.
The Girl opens like an artifact of the post-Saw torture-porn craze of the mid-‘00s, with Biehn’s serial killer snuffing out a scared young girl before an opening-credits montage shows that this is a regular practice for him. The killer, credited only as Father, takes his latest victim (Evie Thompson) to the barn behind his rural home, where he lives with his shiftless, home-shopping-obsessed wife (Tia Carrere) and their son Tommy (Tristan DeVan), both of whom are oblivious to dad’s extracurricular activities. Tommy, ever curious, starts to poke around the barn and discovers the girl bound and gagged. He brings her food and they become close. The girl (whose name is never given) frequently has psychic flashes of dad’s previous victims, and also seems to wield some form of telekinesis, though she doesn’t seem to be entirely in control of it.
The Girl fashions itself as a horror film early on, but truth be told, it doesn’t really know what the hell it wants to be. Worse, it fails at everything it tries to be. It’s never scary. When it fishes for the heart within the bond between the girl and Tommy, it comes up with nothing (and nothing about their interactions passes the smell test of plausible behavior). Its attempts at consumer satire don’t land. Most egregious is the sudden shift into supernatural territory it takes at the eleventh hour, which is hilarious in how arbitrary and unearned it is. It’s a failure from top to bottom.
The single most jarring thing about the film, however, is how horrifically acted it is. The younger actors can be given something of a pass due to their inexperience, but how on earth are Biehn and Carrere this terrible? Even taking into account how ineptly developed these characters are, it’s staggering how pitiful these performances shake out to be. Carrere, who did solid work in the Wayne’s World films and True Lies (this film is lousy with Cameron alums, in every sense of the word), flails about ineffectually, seemingly incapable of producing either a believable reaction or a decent line reading. And Biehn is simply embarrassing here, playing a sputteringly profane nerd. These people have been in the business far too long to be locked into amateur hour at this late stage.
The Girl is a half-formed, wildly incompetent, dirt-cheap heap of nothing. Never is it clear what this movie is attempting to do or say or be. I used to think Cameron ought to help a brother out and throw Biehn a part in an Avatar sequel, but no longer. The only thing that would achieve would be to make Sam Worthington look mighty good.
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