There is in fact something obscene and sinister about photography, a desire to imprison, to incorporate, a sexual intensity of pursuit.
Nick Simon's The Girl in the Photographs opens with the above quote from William S. Burroughs, and it's a compelling premise on which to base a slasher. Whether the film actually develops this premise is arguable, but the attempt is entertaining and admirably ambitious.
Colleen (Claudia Lee) is a supermarket check-out girl in the tiny town of Spearfish, South Dakota, who begins to find photographs of women mutilated and modeled in ghastly positions. The photos seem to be left for her, specifically, in places only she will find them, but the police aren't too concerned - the women aren't identifiable, and the bumbling small town cops think it's just a prank. (It isn't.)
Meanwhile, a famed L.A. fashion photographer named Peter Hemmings (Kal Penn) reads about the photos online, and he just so happens to be from Spearfish, South Dakota. Inspired by the high drama of the images, Hemmings decides to return to his hometown and stage a fashion shoot of "dead-eyed models" in cadaverous poses.
Hemmings is clearly meant to be a fictional version of human sewage Terry Richardson, the celebrity photographer and sexual predator responsible for many of American Apparel's most appalling ad campaigns. In fact, Colleen has just received another photo when she's flipping through her mail, and she compares the corpse's pose to that of a supermodel on the cover of an American Apparel catalogue. The living woman looks just like the dead - objectified, her body twisted in unnatural angles, her face void of expression.
Any horror film that presents Terry Richardson as a fatuous degenerate and American Apparel as two inches left of true evil is going to grab my attention, and The Girl in the Photographs kept it with a brisk pace and great performances from Lee, Penn, and two just-more-than-cameos from genre darlings Mitch Pileggi and Katharine Isabelle.
Unfortunately, the film never quite delivers on what could be a great statement on the misogynistic state of fashion photography, an industry that makes millions of dollars photographing women to look like children, like animals, like corpses - rarely like living, adult human beings. The Girl in the Photographs loses focus midway through the film, spending too much time from the slasher's nasty point of view and too little on the fascinating dynamic that arises between the entitled Hemmings and the fiercely independent Colleen.
Still, The Girl in the Photographs is a stylish, energetic slasher, one that aspires to say something, even if it never quite gets its thesis off the ground. You'll be entertained, but the pity is that, with a bit more focus, this is a horror movie that could provoke you, as well.