Guilt/Girl made its official debut Wednesday night at the Smyrna Malco Theater to an almost sold out audience. The first film in five years from writer/director Mike Dobrzelecki is the story of a young woman, the “final girl” on the first anniversary of the massacre that she alone survived. Taking the well worn trope of a faceless killer running amok a group of twenty-somethings it has the potential from scene one to be little more than another summer slasher. But Guilt/Girl veers sideways immediately to tell a story that, honestly, is very rarely seen in the genre.
Guilt/Girl introduces us to Sarah (Ashley Thomas), the sole survivor of the “Vanity Lake Murders” as she struggles with the mental and emotional trauma of her experience. Treated like a suspect by cops, a sideshow attraction by the media, and a pariah in the eyes of her family she finds little comfort in knowing that she survived. The film explores her recovery, her therapy, and gives the audience a gripping look not only at survivor's guilt but at the full spectrum of chaos that is PTSD. Sarah, a victim of a faceless, nameless killer, endures a sense of shame and a feeling of tacit culpability in the killings because she ran rather than fight and die.
The film uses the first person narrative of the survivor and the time honored trope of the mysterious campsite slasher to tell a very real story of physical abuse. Guilt/Girl's protagonist is a character we see all too often in our current climate. A young woman engaged in her own life, not inviting or seeking out anything malicious who, by circumstance alone becomes the victim of opportunity for a predator. It's a real problem that we're only now slowly starting to acknowledge and begin to address. Anyone who has experienced the sort of physical and mental abuse that can literally break a human soul will instantly relate.
The story is superbly written, well directed, and told with a cast of talented actors who very much bring Guilt/Girl to life. The music is atmospheric and emotive in the moment, punctuated only by moments of intensity where only silence will do. Director Mike Dobrzelecki was on hand along with the cast and crew for the premiere and was genuinely at a loss for the overwhelmingly positive responses coming from the audience. In a brief Q&A immediately after the movie he apologized for some minor sound issues which he's still in the process of having redone and talked about his upcoming project Giving Up the Ghost which begins filming this October.
As well as the night’s main event, the audience was also given a chance to enjoy some incredible short films including one by Nashville’s own Daisy Dukes Films. Inside the House is the latest film release from the trio of talented ladies who run the production company and is a slasher movie with a drastically unexpected twist. The film is under five minutes long and grabs your attention from the opening scene until the gruesome end but to say much more would risk spoiling the plot for you. I will say that, despite the way it looks, the killer is definitely inside the house.
As for Guilt/Girl, the film was a catharsis for its creator and will be hitting the festival circuit later this year after some audio touch ups.
Dan Lee is a film critic, editorialist, independent author, and horror culture correspondent from Tennessee. You can also follow him on social media @dotdblog.