Frequently described as ‘Alice in Wonderland with machine guns’, director Zack Snyder’s latest offering to whatever heathen God they worship up at Warner Bros is a little more Crazy Town than Wonderland. Recently chosen to reboot the Superman franchise, Snyder follows hits 300, Watchmen and The Legend of The Guardians (that owl film) with this deliciously grungy, original, Sci-Fi fantasy.
It begins with the institutionalization of Baby Doll (Aussie actor Emily Browning) following the death of her mother, and subsequent death of her younger sister as the result of a rape attempt at the hands of her stepfather. To stop Baby Doll from spilling the beans and halting his inheritance, she is taken to Lennox House; a dingy hospital for the ‘mentally insane’, where orderlies take cuts, and sexual abuse is high on the menu.
To survive both the squalid conditions, and her imminent lobotomy, Baby Doll retreats down the rabbit hole, and into her imagination, as she and the rest of the female ensemble (Jamie Chung, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone and Vanessa Hudgens) battle to escape the asylum before Baby Doll loses her mind (literally).
Beginning with almost disturbing intensity (and a fantasy within a fantasy) the mental hospital is transformed for almost the entirety of the film, into a Moulin Rouge-style, Mob-run whorehouse, Dr. Gorski into a dance instructor-come-brothel Madam (Carla Gugino), and the patients into exotic dancers. It is a setting that works well; theatrically highlighting the overt sexuality of the abuse suffered by these young girls. However, they’re far from helpless.
Like all good fantasy stories, there’s a quest; items to find, and baddies to defeat, and the characters are more than ready to do both. Snyder’s signature grimy, gothic aesthetic is ever present, as the girls bend time and space to encounter demon samurai, Steampunk-zombie-soldiers, Orcs, dragons, and futuristic alien-robots; all to gather fire, a map, a key and a knife (oh and the cryptic fifth item – a mystery). But will they find the items and escape their prison in time? And will any of them survive Baby Doll’s fantastical delusions?
The all-star female cast show us the meaning of girl power, battling hoards of monsters in and out of Baby Doll’s mind to reach their goal, in kick-ass costumes to boot. However, somewhere in the layers of fantasy, the reality of their fate is lost; it’s easy to forget that if these fetish-clad girls don’t manage to kill the dragon, or shoot the zombie, then they die for real. With minimal urgency throughout, the storyline falters.
Love it or hate it, as with many fantasy films, you have to take it as it is; don’t try to rationalize it, in fact don’t even think about it too much. Part anime, part superhero flick, the graphic novel-esque tone combined with a great cast and great music make this an easy one to enjoy, watch it if you can.
Beth Cook, Film Editor