As I stood before the Redbox machine – not at all ready, and by no means eager – about to select the final Shithouse entry of the summer, it struck me that our current year had yet to witness its own definitive cautionary tale. A movie of, by, and for our sad, desperate times; a conscience-tweaking event to set us on that long-needed course towards righteous redemption. Finally, in these, the dog days of August, it has arrived. 2013 has at last produced its warning bell in the night. And it took a movie made in 2009 to do it. One wonders why Redbox, an outfit that prides itself on the current, the contemporary, and the now, would bother stocking its shelves with a DVD four years too late, but it’s more likely that my fated pick, She’s Crushed, just now saw the light of day. I can’t imagine what accounts for its presidential term of a delay, what with its basement budget, no-name talent, and script that, if we’re being honest, is a good 40% blood-curdling screams, but here’s to the powerful and the mighty who at last gave us the lashing we deserve.
At bottom, She’s Crushed concerns no less than the American Female, circa 2013 (or 2009). And who is she, pray tell? Fittingly, she’s the same as the 1985 version, or some Victorian lass, or a broad at any future time of your choosing. She, being the one who is crushed, is murder incarnate. And yes, it usually takes sex to set this clockwork banana in motion, but it’s much more complicated, naturally. Women – all women, thank you, cinema, for allowing us all to sweep broadly – are from a long, perhaps unbreakable line of mental illness. They descend from the very hips of lunacy, daughter from mother, again and again, and there’s pretty much nothing we can do to end the madness. Sure, our women are not exactly helped along by fathers who rape them, but thankfully, that’s a side issue. Daughter-dear was blitzkrieged well before papa entered her from behind while his wife (her mom) rotted away in an asylum. There never was a choice. So as you try to cure her with pills and potions and therapy, she’ll be embracing her destiny as man hunter, torturer, and sadistic bully.
That brings us to Tara. Oh, Tara. Nutty as a fruitcake from the get-go, without anything by way of drama, build-up, or slow burn to get in the way. Her meet-cute with the doomed Ray occurs but a minute in to our cinematic adventure, and it’s easy to see that she’s hauling body parts into her home. But he stops to help, so of course she’s immediately obsessed and peeking through a fence while he speaks to another woman. No lie, friends, we’re 90 seconds in. Fastest table-setting of all time, and we’re the better for it. Why delay the obvious? And then, before I adjust myself, Ray is drunk at a bar, and we just know that Tara’s going to show up to give him a ride. Yep, there she is. She’s peppy and bright and cute, and he’s out of his mind shitfaced. Suddenly, we cut to Tara freaking the fuck out in her bathroom as she looks for a job. What do you mean you need experience? She slams down the phone, curses wildly, and cuts herself with the knife that will come to mean so much by movie’s end. Wait a sec, did Tara and Ray fuck? We have no evidence, but she seems to think so. The confusion will not end here.
The next several minutes are where the shading and nuance take over, at least momentarily. Tara visits her mom in the nuthouse, Tara shaves her armpits with that same knife, and I’m fairly certain the flashback we see is meant to imply that Tara’s father, the man who rapes her at an age that could very well be yesterday, is also a holy man. Why else show the Bible and Jesus statue? It’s a casual rape as rapes go, and one could not be faulted for interpreting it as tender. Maybe it’s her stepfather. That’s never proven, but I’m not sure the literature has ever produced a case of a 32-year-old woman continuing to have sex with her biological father. Not like I know she’s 32. But it’s better to think so. After the brief trip through Tara’s psyche, we’re back to the present, and she’s now pretty much dead set on the idea that Ray is breaking up with her. In fairness to Ray, he never asked for exclusivity, and we’re still not sure they fucked. Though Tara later produces a filled-to-the-brim condom that is her trump card in a rape and murder frame-up job. But that’s for the unsettling third act. Until then, you better get used to Tara’s unchecked OCD.
Tara calls Ray’s cell phone. She calls him at home. She leaves belligerent messages on 2013’s last remaining answering machine that is also the final edition from 2009. She takes Ray’s picture, prints it out, and cuts out the face so she can serve it dinner and play happy homemaker. She coos, “I love you too, boo-boo bear,” proving that even the insane hold the capacity for sweetness. Ahh fuck, now she’s showing up at his work. Then, because the sex didn’t go as planned and Ray didn’t surrender his life and limb and soul that very moment, Tara gets all female and cries rape. She’s fully clothed and in broad daylight at the time, but please, there have been flimsier accusations. In the meantime, we meet Donnie, Ray’s sex maniac co-worker, and he exists solely to be one of Tara’s eventual victims. He loves sex, so he must die. Treat a woman like meat and it’s you who will find yourself in the grinder. But again, that’s for later. Until then, in a holding pattern of a good half-hour, Tara will curse, self-mutilate, and make threats. Thankfully, there are laughs while we wait. Tara’s windows-down drivebys are a hoot, full of slo-mo menace and incoherent soundtrack selections.
Before I continue, a word about the setting. I have no idea what town this is supposed to be, but every single woman we see wears a short skirt. Like, really short. Even the day care worker. The lone exception is Tara’s mother, but she’s in a booby hatch and so not hot, so no one’s objecting. Perhaps this nod to promiscuity and leggy charm is to help explain why no one seems to care that Tara wanders the streets with visibly bleeding cuts. Her face and torso are covered with blood, yet she walks around without anyone bothering to inquire about her general health. An indictment of indifferent patriarchy in the face of female victimization? Perhaps, but I’m not sure the movie is on the side of the angels when it saves its best bind-torture-kill for Ray’s pregnant girlfriend. I thought she’d end up being the hero on the side of mom and apple pie, but she’s gutted worst of all. Still, though, this town! It’s very small, like rural Oklahoma small, and yet Tara murders a good dozen and no one seems to finger the bloody woman stalking the town with a knife in her hand.
So blah, blah, blah, Tara threatens suicide, makes a tearful apology, and even dad pays a visit. Tara offers to blow him, but he’s busy. Maybe later. Then we come to the previously mentioned condom frame-up, and we know Ray can’t call the cops because Tara has smeared his semen all over the vagina of his dead boss, who happens to occupy his trunk. What’s a man to do? Before we know it, though I’m tempted to blame the shit-assed editor, Tara kills the day care worker, a dog walker, and Ray’s friend Phil, a fellow Iraq War soldier, horribly crippled, who now spends his time banging hot bar sluts and snorting coke off CDs. Phil is a bitter man, but we’re not here to explore PTSD, or any other veteran’s issues. He exists to be attacked by Tara, a long scene that results in him being lobotomized by a pencil, and the whore in question being sliced, diced, and separated from her teeth by a hammer. In a questionable artistic move, the film then spends a good two minutes with Tara as she cuts up the bodies while circus music plays. I guess it’s funny, but to whom? To me, fucker, because I sure as shit giggled. And not for the last time.
Donnie is killed next, for no real reason, except that Tara hadn’t killed anyone for at least five minutes. He thinks he’s getting lucky (he meets Tara by helping her take in luggage filled with body parts, just like Ray), but he’s anything but. He should remember that Tara’s the chick who showed up at Ray’s work screaming rape, but the heart wants what it wants. After being tazed, Donnie is injected with puffer fish toxin, but just enough to keep him alive and completely paralyzed. Predictably, Tara then saddles Donnie with the Ray face mask and dinner is served. After the din dies down a bit, Ray shows up (no, I don’t know why) and is told by Tara that his girlfriend has been murdered. Only it’s not Ray’s woman, but that hot co-worker. Easy to see how the two were mixed up, since one is a dark-haired Mexican and the other so blond as to be albino, but Tara’s not a stickler for detail. Until now. You see, it’s all been building up to this. The big showdown. The grand finale. The reason we’ve sat through 72 minutes of pretext.
Tara’s basement. It ends here. Ray is tied up, his girlfriend Maddy as well, and yes, Tara has the knife. And a hammer and nails. And a blow torch. What follows is Saw by way of Hostel, only with far more blood-curdling screams. Oh yes, and little else. I laughed uproariously throughout, only because I imagined what someone might think if they passed by the room where I sat watching. I’ve seen thousands of films, many so graphic they push the boundaries of even the sickest torture porn, but this? A new day, folks, and so unrelenting it soon faded into white noise. So why not another kooky montage with that ever-present circus music? Spikes are pounded into feet, stomachs are sliced, toes drop to the floor like morning rain, and all the while, a clown car waits for its cue. Whatever that Maddy chick was paid, double that shit. It’s likely she remained hoarse for a month. But Maddy still had some fight in her. She gets loose, attacks Tara, and though the cat fight sexuality is tempered by the blood, the film gets kudos for knowing what we want. But before they can make out, Maddy dies. She does not save the day. She’s Crushed is not going to play by the rules.
Then it hit me. Tara’s going to get away with this shit. The sixteen murders, the kidnapping, the conspiracy, all of it. And Ray, far from a hero himself, will be lobotomized, turned into a puppet, and made to serve Tara as she performs a lap dance for the dead. Soon bored, she at last butchers Ray like a steer and packs him up in that old familiar luggage. Bitch slaughtered six employees of an insurance firm, the area’s lone babysitter, and half the local bar’s clientele, and no one is the wiser. No cops come to question her, no surveillance started or finished, and despite being the one and only person seen talking to, kissing, and bleeding near just about everyone now missing, she remains defiantly free. Unpunished and above suspicion. Who knows where she’ll turn up next, but turn up she will. And she’ll bat her precious eyelashes, show some cleavage, and wear those tight little shorts again and again until she’s cleansed the world of masculine disappointment. Where every dalliance is a promise to be broken, and every orgasm an act of war to be avenged by bloodletting. A first date is love, the one night stand an iron-clad contract with no way out but the grave. A woman’s world at last.