18 year-old filmmaker Alice Maio Mackay directs an indie horror whodunit with style & confidence.
Despite interminable “why is horror so popular?” articles written by people who have little knowledge about or interest in horror, the reason why it thrives as a genre is because of its flexibility. You can approach virtually any subject – sexuality, xenophobia, illness – through the lens of horror and make it effectively nightmarish. Certain all-too-vocal horror fans don’t like when things get too topical (presumably because it forces them to think), and point to slasher movies as “real” horror, because they focus predominantly on violence and mayhem, rather than bringing any real-world elements into it. Watch most slasher movies from the 80s through the 00s and you’ll notice that, other than maybe the hair and clothes, nothing sets them in any specific time period. They exist in bubbles, with characters seemingly untouched by anything until a masked killer shows up to ruin the party.
With Bad Girl Boogey, Alice Maio Mackay successfully merges the slasher genre with all-too-relevant current events. Her second feature after last year’s So Vam, Bad Girl Boogey is the first of three movies Mackay has slated for release in 2023, a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, but certainly for a filmmaker who’s just 18. Despite her youth, Mackay, who also co-wrote the film with Benjamin Pahl Robinson, directs with confidence, not just putting a modern spin on slashers, but giving depth to the one thing most slashers tend to overlook: the characters.
The film opens with three friends breaking into a house that once belonged to an old man rumored to have participated in black magic rituals. Their own attempt to perform a ritual goes awry when one of them, after donning a mysterious (and deeply creepy) mask she finds in the house, is overtaken by some malevolent force and attacks the other two, killing them both. “Many Halloweens later,” as the title card informs, one of the victims’ daughter, Angel (Lisa Fanto), is now a high school student. Raised by her aunt, Angel is resentful that her mother’s family was less concerned about her murder and more about the fact that she was queer. Angel is queer herself, as are her friends, and everyday life for them means that even just standing outside school to chat puts them at risk of harassment.
They’re able to find community and distraction at a nightclub, but even that safe haven is destroyed when one of Angel’s friends, Lila (Prudence Cassar), is brutally murdered just outside. Angel doesn’t know it yet, but the mask Lila’s killer wears is the same mask worn by Angel’s mother’s killer many years earlier. It becomes quickly apparent that the killer is targeting queer and trans people, and when it’s evident that the police aren’t in a big hurry to solve the case, Angel, along with friend Dario (Iris Mcerlean), sets about doing it herself, putting her life at risk to protect her community.
Though Bad Girl Boogey is, at its core, a slasher movie, setting up characters and taking them out in a variety of gruesome ways (a scalping with a piece of glass will have you cringing), at just 80 minutes long it spends a surprising (and welcome) amount of time with said characters. As opposed to a series of stale archetypes (the Good Girl, the Slut, the Dumb Jock, etc.), they feel real, and the way the events of the film affect them is both real, and poignant. Angel isn’t just sad and frightened, she’s angry and frustrated. The adults in her and her friends’ lives, rather than give them space to address the horror of the situation, chastise them for their anger and expect them to just idly sit by and hope that maybe someone finally takes action before more of them are killed.
Obviously this is a reflection of the real world, and the lack of action cishet people are taking in standing up for the queer and trans community, even as their rights are being systematically stripped away and they’re threatened with violence merely for existing. Angel’s aunt complaining about Angel using foul language even though her friend was just murdered may seem ridiculous, until you see cishet people complain on social media about how they would be more supportive of trans people, but they’re just so loud and “in your face” about it. A masked killer is, if anything, the B-plot in Bad Girl Boogey.
Despite its low budget (Mackay mostly relies on crowdfunding), Bad Girl Boogey is polished, with a trippy nightclub scene and a recurring nightmare Angel has about Lila’s murder the standout moments (there’s also a great voiceover appearance by horror icon Bill Moseley as a radio DJ). Fanto and Mcerlean, as Angel and Dario, have an easy, authentic rapport with each other, and there’s a wry sense of humor to some scenes that keep things from getting too dour. They are, before anything else, just a couple of kids, and the fact that they’re not permitted to live their lives in peace and safety offers a sobering element to a genre that is normally gleeful in the horrors its characters are put through.
With raw talent and, given she’s made four movies in just two years (with another one just announced), a tireless work ethic, clearly Alice Maio Mackay has an exciting future as a horror filmmaker ahead of her. Hopefully the fearlessness with which she approached Bad Girl Boogey remains as she’s exposed to a larger audience, who need to hear what she has to say, whether they like it or not.
Bad Girl Boogey premieres on VOD July 4th, with limited theatrical release beginning July 7th.