“All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.” – Jean Luc Godard

“Fuck it, then. Let’s get three girls and a trunkful of guns!” – Christopher Bickel, presumably…

Back in those halcyon days of November 2017, I was given the opportunity to check out a low-budget film out of South Carolina and, going into it not expecting much more than your standard low/no budget exploitation flick, I instead had my world rocked and my mind fucked. The Theta Girl was a revelation of excess, captured on film for less than the price of a used car; a straight-up open-faced grindhouse sandwich with a side of psychedelic mind expansion.

It was one of the most impressive low-budget film debuts I’ve ever seen.

Now, after a few years of starts and stops and with a handful of music videos under his belt, director Christopher Bickel has returned with an even more impressive sophomore effort. Bad Girls takes what in other hands could be a run-of-the-mill exploitation film – strippers on a crime spree, making their way to Mexico – and turns in another amazing example of indie artistry that defies budgetary constraints and mainstream moral confines.

With just his second feature, Bickel is clearly a more controlled filmmaker with a fantastic eye for the shot and virtuoso editorial skills. Embracing the violent female spirit of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, with a touch of Bikini Bandits, Bad Girls is a kaleidoscopic fever dream of rapid-fire cuts, over-the-top violence, psychedelic drug orgies, raging punk metal screams, and dashes of existential angst. All these elements whirl together in a non-stop road trip to hell as our titular Bad Girls, Val (Morgan Shaley Renew), Mitzi (Senethia Dresch), and Carolyn (Shelby Lois Guinn), rob strip clubs, gun shops, and convenience stores in explosions of bloody excess on their way to freedom in Mexico. However, along the way and against all logic, they get sidetracked taking the ladies’ favorite rock stars, Bard Gainsworth (Cleveland Langdale) of Christmas Tits and Zerox Rhodesia (Micah Peroulis) of Poltergasm, hostages.

You see, Val doesn’t give a shit about logic. She’s dedicated to doing what she wants, when she wants, until whatever happens happens – much to the chagrin of Mitzi, who definitely wants to live to fight another day.

The opening minute echoes Faster Pussycat’s famous go-go dancing opening, but quickly explodes into violence that would have made Varla proud, as the girls rob the strip club where they’re working, murdering anybody who gets in their way. This is followed by a drug and booze-fueled run for the border, punctuated by a series of murders and robberies and nihilistic psychedelic visuals until a car wreck sends them off in search of a new ride. And that’s just the first five minutes.

Every gunshot blood spray, every hyper-speed knifing, every drug-crazed barreling down a dark highway is goddamn gorgeous.

Most indie films with budgets this low struggle to get made and usually, if they do stumble across the finish line, one of the first things jettisoned to do so was the acting. Sometimes, just having warm bodies who will show up on time takes precedence over finding talented performers. Luckily, that is definitely not a problem here.

Bad Girls lives or dies on the performances of its lead bad girls and all three women are up to the task. Renew captures the frightening sociopathic energy of Val, pinballing from lusting for murder to lusting for drug euphoria to lusting for sex in a way that damn near ensures that no good will come from this adventure. Dresch’s Mitzi goes all in trying to be the voice of reason, doing everything she can to curb Val’s impulses and keep them all alive. Meanwhile Guinn’s Carolyn is pure joy, practically the innocent of the bunch, but still ready to bash a dude’s brains out if he tries to put hands on any of them.

Langdale and Peroulis bring an awkward humanity to their roles as low-rent rock stars, kidnapped and loving it, discussing philosophy, art, and their own mortality amongst the chaos and blood splatter. Alongside them, Jonathan Benton enthusiastically plays Rusty, a motel desk jockey who is desperate to escape his boring life, even if it means potentially being murdered by the most exciting women to ever cross his path.

And what would a crime story be without dedicated lawmen hunting these bad girls down? Mike Amason (who also appeared in The Theta Girl as Papa Shotgun) takes the lead as Special Agent Cannon, a cop with a distinct kink for punishing transgressive women – or maybe all women? And Dove Dupree balances out Cannon’s aggression as Special Agent McMurphy, a cop with a distinct knack for always having something on hand to eat while attempting to talk down, or at least side-eye, Cannon’s more extreme misogyny.

The film is co-written by Shane Silman, who played the psychotic religious murderer, Brother Marcus in The Theta Girl, and who also shows up at the climax of this film as rocker Danny Lucifer, a hilarious riff on someone you’ll immediately recognize (hint: this rocker could learn a thing or two about filmmaking by watching Bad Girls). The score is written and performed by Matt Akers and the film features music by In/Humanity, Hand Over Fist, Newgenics, Boo Hag, and Isabelle’s Gift.

Though there’s a nihilistic streak underlying the transgressive punk energy of Bad Girls, I came away almost giddy with pleasure. Some might argue, though, that the murder and violence plays as celebratory and undermines the gleeful visual stylings. Bickel is definitely not afraid to say or show things deliberately designed to shock and offend a mainstream audience. But this isn’t the low-brow thumbing of the nose to society that say, Troma generally traffics in – which I also love, by the way. This is something more ambitious. Bad Girls is what low-budget, indie exploitation film can aspire to be. It looks great, has solid performances, embraces local music and talent, and doesn’t hold back anything in the name of good taste. Bad Girls looks and sounds like a film that would usually take a filmmaker a decade to work up to, but still drips with nasty punk rock energy.  

A closing credit montage reframes our bad girls in a way that first extols their virtues as pop culture renegades and then forces us to reevaluate them again as women just trying to find happiness and love. This bliss contrasts with the darkness immediately preceding, almost serving to purify everything that came before. We leave the film seeing our bad girls happy and free, the way they deserved to be seen all along.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out Bickel’s mid-credits call to arms, urging viewers to go get their hands dirty, pointing out that the film was “produced for the cost of a used car,” and then closing the credits with, “There is nothing stopping you from making your own movie.” If you take nothing at all away from the experience of watching Bad Girls, at least take inspiration.

To learn more about Bad Girls and help support the film, check out their web site and buy some merch.

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