The Debutantes starts out as a compressed, somewhat sideways riff on Carrie. Teenage social outcast Kate (Sue Ramirez) befriends popular girl Lara (Miles Ocampo) and gets herself invited to the 18th birthday party of queen bee Jenny (Jane de Leon). Her getting invited turns out to be a setup for a prank that leaves her humiliated. After this incident, things get strange for all the girls, and one by one they encounter a seemingly unstoppable sinister force that seeks to do them harm.
People who are at all familiar with the elements of horror movies will likely pick up on what is meant to be a big twist later on. The film telegraphs the twist so early that it barely counts as a twist. For the most part, the narrative is mainly about sending these girls to their deaths. They aren’t really given any way to better their situation. The dynamics of the relationships don’t evolve as the girls are thrust into dangerous situations. The one girl that’s nice remains nice. The other girls still aren’t, and they pay for it. With the characters ultimately so helpless, it’s difficult to find anything to hold on to.
The thing that the film needed to do, then, was make their deaths interesting and compelling. This isn’t quite what happens. The threat, as conceived by the film, is one of those ill-defined monsters that pop up at random intervals, telekinetically doing harm to its victims. The film never really tries to be very disturbing, perhaps toeing the line in pursuit of its PG rating. The film is technically well put together, with crisp lensing and cool music. But these elements don’t really produce anything particularly memorable.
But the biggest problem with the movie is where it goes. Now, this doesn’t seem to be one of those scripts that’s really trying to say anything in particular. But what the resolution of this film suggests is very problematic anyway. The film puts together a scenario that implies some deeply troubling things about victims of abuse, the supernatural threat dealt with in a way that gets into thematically irresponsible territory. And of course, because the film adheres to local horror movie convention, that resolution doesn’t even really matter.
As Kate, Sue Ramirez delivers a fairly credible performance. It can feel a little inconsistent from scene to scene, but there is a clear attempt at putting together a complete character. None of the other actresses are really given the chance to flesh out their roles. Miles Ocampo is appealing enough in her role, but there just isn’t enough to it. The three other girls get even less, and end up being saddled with completely broad portrayals of the high school mean girl. None of them do a particularly good job of it, too.
The Debutantes doesn’t feel like much. On a narrative level, it really is just a series of lame death scenes put into the context of a low-rent Carrie riff. Technically, the skill and knowledge are definitely there, but it’s not being put to use to create anything memorable or interesting. In the end, what stands out is just how wrong the whole thing feels by the end. It gets really ugly in a way that probably wasn’t intended, but it’s there, and it casts a shroud over the entire project. It could have just been a good looking but overall lazy horror movie. But it ends up being something worse.
THE DEBUTANTES IS SHOWING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.