Molly McGlynn’s sophomore feature, Bloody Hell explicitly reveals its core conceit from the very beginning, opening with two quotes on a symbolically pink-colored background: the first, from Simon de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, reads, “The body is not a thing, but a situation”; the other, from Jennifer’s Body via Diable Cody, observes, “Hell is a teenage girl.” It’s immediately evident, then, that this indie Canadian coming-of-age dramedy is supposed to first and foremost tackle the complex and crucial issue of one’s body — more specifically, the meaning of a woman’s body — and the relationship between a person’s corporeality and the surrounding world as a means to perceive and understand it.
Following her 16-year-old protagonist, Lindy (portrayed by Gen-Z teen idol Maddie Ziegler), McGlynn constructs her semi-autobiographical story through a quite familiar narrative: living with her single mother Rita (Emily Hampshire), who has her own struggles with dating apps, Lindy is a new arrival in suburban Sudbury, Ontario, a setup which immediately suggests the struggles she will face in terms of adapting to a new social environment and in her attempts to discover her own identity. But what distinguishes this cringe traumedy is not only its unique subject matter — Lindy unexpectedly finds out that she suffers from the MRKH syndrome, a rare congenital disorder that makes it impossible for her to have penetrative sex — but also the way McGlynn subjects a woman’s body to various identities: here, a female body is alternately (sometimes simultaneously) understood according to sexual, medical, existential, cosmetic, and athletic terms. And perhaps more importantly, in Lindy’s case, as a waypoint between girlhood and womanhood.
It becomes obvious, then, how McGlynn follows the dictum laid out by Beauvoir’s opening quote and constructs the narrative precisely as a series of distinct, and distinctly awkward, situations. The problem, however, is that Bloody Hell, functioning as a situational dramedy, does not always succeed in remaining fresh across its roughly 100-minute runtime, which causes it to frequently feel a little too flat and repetitive. It’s an unfortunate development, perhaps reflective of a lack of complete control over the material, for a film as sensitive, insightful, and conceptually thought-provoking as Bloody Hell. Making things worse is the fact that, aesthetically speaking, McGlynn asserts the film’s visual character in far too safe and standard a fashion, operating in a familiar low-key lane that viewers will likely recognize from similar-looking films like, say, the works of Lena Dunham.
But despite such drawbacks, on top of McGlynn’s somewhat novel take on the film’s narrative material, what truly boosts Bloody Hell, at least beyond your conventional and plainly didactic treatment of this subject matter, is the Ziegler’s deeply relatable presence in the lead role, supported by an impressive troupe of young, empathic performers. Ziegler delivers a turn that is both bold and fragile, easily moving between joviality and a more guarded restraint, and it lends McGlynn’s Bloody Hell a tender emotionality and gentleness that helps translate its hyper-specific narrative considerations to messaging that will speak to a wider sphere of viewers.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 12.