Bad Girl Boogey

Bad Girl Boogey (2022)

“It’s following me too,” says Garry (Chris Asimos), some way into Bad Girl Boogey, in words that align this film with David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows (2014) – after all, in both these features, teens are menaced by an identity-switching killer. When protagonist Angel (Lisa Fanto) asks, “Who’s following you?” Garry insists, “Not who, it.” Later Angel will declare, “I think I’m gong to kill him – it – or whatever”, leading her friend Dario (Iris Mcerlean) – a resonant forename in a supernatural slasher – to suggest, “Them.” Later still, Angel will again stumble over how to refer to their persecutor, saying: “… or – whatever it is.”

Of course, way back in John Carpenter’s influential slasher Halloween (1978), the psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) insisted on referring to his escaped patient Michael Myers as ‘it’ – but despite its similarly Halloween-set serial killings, Bad Girl Boogey offers a different reason, beyond mere objectification, for all this fussiness over pronouns. After all, this announces itself in text as “a transgender and queer film by Alice Maio Mackay”, its director is herself transgender, and its closing credits carefully list all the characters’ pronouns (nominative/accusative).

Here, alongside the body counts, gender counts – and if characters occasionally trip, whether accidentally or deliberately, over one another’s pronouns, the killer too, in his/her/its/their way, is also trans: an ancient parasitic mask which possesses literally anyone – of any gender – who puts it on (cf. Armando Fonseca and Kapel Furman’s Skull: The Mask, 2020), readily crossing from one identity to another even as it amplifies its various hosts’ existing angst and anger into a murderous drive. 

Indeed the first character whom we see assuming the mask is not a he, an it or a she but a they, the non-binary Blair (Em Bleby). Other wearers will include the racist Oskar (Stanley Browning), and later another enby (Lewi Dawson). While several of the films’ key maskwearers (including Toshiro Glenn) are hateful homophobes, Angel and her fellow queer or queer-friendly friends are also themselves more than capable of rude, raw rage, which so far they have channeled into addictive behaviours, acts of self-harm and a general attitude of aggressive recalcitrance. The mask just offers another outlet.

So there is a mutability to this mask, however fixed its expression: its murderous intent always remains much the same even as its sex and gender differ from body to body and from person to person. In this way, the mask is an obvious complement, through a glass darkly, to the film’s trans and genderfluid characters, themselves always themselves, yet resistant to any externally imposed fixity of definition. Like the mask, they simply want to express who they are, without constantly having to repress their true feelings in an environment that they find hostile to their very being. Unlike the mask, though, they mostly do not wish to kill – although there are always exceptions…

So that mask is a multivalent symbol, serving both to cover over, and to be a conduit for, various negative emotions and aggressions. Years earlier, Angel’s closeted mother (Erin Paterson) had fallen victim to a wearer of the mask who knew her secret – and now Angel, who desires, no less than her antagonist, both to cut her own flesh and to lash out against others, is torn between a dual desire to don or destroy the mask. This inner conflict runs in parallel to the film’s external one. Meanwhile the story of the mask’s transmission, told by a similarly conflicted character (Hjalmar Mareinsson) in a piece of mannered exposition, suggests a long history of homophobic hatred that links the situation in present-day Adelaide (and its relatively recent past) to the relative sexual licence of the Weimar Republic and the murderous purges of Nazi Germany. Here, no matter what the place or period, there always seems to be a battle between freedom and repression, with queer people as ever on the frontline. 

So, for all its low budget and commitment to horror’s most by-numbers subgenre, Bad Girl Boogey is an ambitious, messy (in a good way) take on the masked killer, with a lot going on beneath its surface body. Made when Mackay was just 17 years old, this is in fact her second feature – once again, like her debut So Vam (2021), co-written with Benjamin Pahl Robinson. Lit in derealising colours, genre-savvy, inventive and personal, this marks the emergence of a new voice in horror with a very promising career ahead.

strap: Alice Maio Mackay’s second feature uses the tropes of a supernatural slasher to mask the conflicts of queer identity  

© Anton Bitel