'Girls With Balls' Review: Not Quite The "Volleyball Team Vs. Killer Rednecks" Movie You're Looking For, But Close [Fantastic Fest]

Olivier Afonso's Girls With Balls doesn't atone for the leery "females vs. males" horror normalization of exploitations past, but it is a slaughter-tastic midnight movie about volleyball vixens defending themselves from backwoods killers. Expect gallons of juicy redness, slack-jawed Deliverance imposters, and a campfire's smokestack of slasher fun. Any fans of Dead & Breakfast out there? When the film's spurs-janglin' songster narration kicks in, you'll be reminded of a very goofy and very familiar structure that holds novel throughout. It's a slasher with teen spirit, a midnighter with malice, and the gory corpse counter that's suggested – but a woman-driven riot act that reads genre representation the third degree? That aspect, oddly, lacks execution.

The film's plot, with the utmost generic intent, follows a championship volleyball team – the Falcons – as they follow a detour home through windy middle-of-nowhere roads. They come across a derelict bar. Shady characters butcher grub and attractive athletes dance on tables, but it becomes apparent that the independent women (and coach) aren't welcome. An altercation comes close to boiling over, the girls leave, but what happens next isn't sleepovers and pillow fights. As the players slumber inside their rickety van, local men wake them up for a most dangerous game. Good thing these girls have balls – literally and figuratively.

Alfonso, along with co-writer Jean-Luc Cano, sports a very Wrong Turn sense of "community" that dials cannibalistic bites down two or so notches. Girls With Balls is a comedy. A blood-soaked, head-exploding, mess-everywhere horror comedy. This is always and ever the film's saving grace, as Cow-Boy (Orelsan) keeps interrupting action with his hilarious honky-tonk assurances of Falcon teammate mutilation. It's a bit off-key or "un-PC" at times – homosexuality flipped for a laugh, animal abuse, super-pervy advances – but vibes are extremely after-school playful (R-rated, of course). Super violent, kneepads-and-helmets silly, and yeah, there's a scene where Alfonso's team spikes an onslaught of bouncy volleyballs at armed hayseed vagrants.

Which, of course, works. Commitment to title if I've ever seen it.

The film's cast of giggly, tush-slapping voyeur bait (not necessarily friends) roster every slasher arc stereotype in the playbook. Morgane (Manon Azem), the aggressive lone wolf who literally hurdles her teammates before acing the game-winning punch. M.A. (Louise Blachère), mocked for her frumpier athlete's physique and thick-rimmed glasses. Lise (Camille Razat), the peppy mascot full of spunk and moxie. Dysfunctional villagers are in desperate need of dental hygiene, exhibit the mental capacity of inbred mountain folk, and restrict most dialogue to disoriented cackles or laughs. Girls twerk on tables, provoke their aggression, and run arms-waving for their lives. Expected, very on-the-nose, but it services the moment.

Yet something isn't completely right about Girls With Balls. This is a movie that so desperately wants to buck horror movie trends by having hot, sexy coeds brutalize and rage back against their male pursuers...through extreme male gazes? By doing absolutely nothing different? Teammates fat-shame, admit to sleeping with each other's boyfriends, Coach (Victor Artus Solaro) throws around rape jokes – Girls With Balls becomes exactly what it aims to destroy. Maybe some might cry "satire" in such a scenario, claiming that all these "normalities" exist to highlight horror inequalities of hold? Doesn't unfold like that. Girls With Balls aims to skewer, but instead presents the same storied treatment of female characters it intends to subvert.

At least it graciously dives into the entertainment aspects of Afonso's hunt-or-be-hunted plot.

Other notables include Denis Lavant as the French redneck ringleader, so evil when brandishing his multi-chamber blasters and slicing up cured meats. Victor Artus Solaro – "Coach" – has a wonderful slapstick encounter with a nippy Chihuahua that ends with Stretch Armstrong elasticity (after multiple cliffside humps). Gore is grindhouse-level vicious and over-the-top, still with a sense of humor noted by the decapitated duck camouflage hider who wanders headless for what seems like forever. Afonso bottles all the bitchiness of female backstabbing with added spice and sass, and it's an inarguably winning challenge (fully acknowledging shortcomings in theme mentioned above).

Girls With Balls aims for the crotch, misses, but still strikes in the gut. As a midnight movie, where Olivier Afonso succeeds most, there's no lack of cheer and pom-poms energy as far as wong-place-wrong-time expeditions are concerned. Better films have pit females against male deviants with 100% more inclusive sincerity, which is a bummer as far as tone registers (booty short close-ups and all). Thankfully, it's still worth finding out if Cow-Boy is telling the truth about Coach's Falcon squad, or if these girls have what it takes to take home the gold – and find their balls.

/Film Rating: 6.5 out of 10