AKA, Julie Darling
Julie Wilding is an atypical teen in a dysfunctional family. She has an unnatural obsession with her father, even brushing off opportunities for dates and outings with friends and classmates in order to spend time with him. On top of that, she seems to be at constant odds with her mother, much to the older woman’s frustration. To say the two of them are far from close would be a massive understatement. But when mommy dearest makes plans to send her daughter off to boarding school and gets rid of Julie’s precious pet python that her beloved father gave her, Julie’s disdain for her mother gets pushed over the edge.
Before Julie can be shipped off to who-knows-where, her mother is assaulted by the new grocery delivery man. Julie has a chance to stop it, but hesitates and her mother is accidentally killed before the intruder runs off. Julie concludes that this is the best possible outcome she could have hoped for, because not only did she not have to do anything to get rid of all her greatest problem, but now she has her father all to herself. Unfortunately, her brief joy is cut short when she finds out that daddy has a mistress. Papa brings the woman and her young son over to meet Julie, hoping to turn all of them into one big happy family, but all Julie can think of is how to get rid of this newest rival for her father’s affections.
I’ve got my babysitting money and a pack of Pop Rocks. What kind of horrific death will that get me?
I was pleasantly surprised by Daughter of Death. Despite it’s clear low-budget and obvious drive-in fodder vibes, it’s an entertaining little psychological drama with good direction and a caliber of acting skill that a film with such a schlocky premise like this probably didn’t deserve.
Isabelle Mejias, who plays Julie, fulfills her role excellently. Her big eyes and round, girl-next-door face, belies the disturbing little psychopath brewing and scheming just below the surface. She also manages to pull it all off with a slowly increasing levels of the upmost creepiness, while also avoiding the typical ‘psycho glares’ that movies featuring “evil children” are want to do. Brava.
The whole movie really hinges on the believability of the increasingly amoral decisions of the young female lead. In most films with evil children like this you’re often given the impression that all the violence they cause is part of some great master scheme, and while Julie does ultimately go down that route (or attempts to, she’s only 16 afterall) as the movie progresses, she doesn’t start off that way.
Actually, my first impression of Julie was that she wasn’t all that ‘bad’ at all. I mean, I get the impression that they were trying to make her out to be a bad kid and, sure, she was a bit of a brat, but so are a lot of teenagers. Before her mother dies it felt like, yeah, the family is dysfunctional, but it also felt like a lot of their issues could have been smoothed out by a licensed family therapist?
One who isn’t afraid of snakes would be preferable.
For instance, literally the first thing Julie’s mom scolds her for is Julie trying to put a third scoop of cocoa powder into her chocolate milk. Her father ends up giving her the go-ahead, but it’s clear from that and other instances that Julie’s mom is a bit of a control freak. She also hates the snake her husband gave their daughter, but again that’s something that could be solved by leaving it in it’s cage. Julie let it out as a way to rebel over all the nitpicking (and because teenagers suck).
Her mother also spends time complaining that Julie isn’t like normal girls and, yeah, owning snakes and enjoying hunting really aren’t stereotypically ‘girlish’, but that all makes it seem like the issue is less of a ‘Julie is a bad kid’ problem and more of a ‘my kid isn’t living up to my idea of what my ideal child should be’ problem. She does have a point of Julie spending too much time with her father (I’ll get to that in a sec), but at the beginning I got the impression that most of their issues were over stuff that could have easily been worked on if both her and her mother put in the effort to connect over interests that they could share.
Hell, even with all the animosity and the whole ‘how could you get rid of my snake!’ bit, Julie’s first instinct when she finds out there’s an intruder in the house is to get her gun.
If she were real she’d be the poster child for the NRA youth movement.
If her mother hadn’t literally asked a stranger to get rid of her daughter’s beloved pet while the kid wasn’t home and been so dismissive about it, than there’s a good chance that dude would have had his brain matter spewed all over the oriental rug. Not that I think losing a pet is a good excuse not to shoot your mother’s would-be rapist, I’m just saying I’m not all that surprised she hesitated. Especially since a lot of the times where she did have a chance to shoot him her mother was maybe, kinda, sorta… in the way. Like, she tried to aim and and had to reposition herself four times before she first hesitated (I went back and counted) and mom was in the shot every damn time, so maybe don’t be so hard on her, Official Movie Summary.
But as it was, the anger that had built up over the last two major issues between them was too fresh and Julie hesitates twice more and winds up doing….nothing. Letting the attacker go free. And this is the part where you really get the sense that Julie isn’t quite right, because up to that point you can rationalize a lot of her inaction as youthful ignorance and/or fear. But this is the point where she shows she’s not at all concerned with catching the killer. Nor is she sad her mother is gone, because her immediate response is to cut her mom out of the nearest favorite family photo.
Damn, kid. Mom’s not even cold yet.
This is disturbing, yet at the same time she’s doing this her father takes the time to call his mistress and plan a new ‘family’ get-together the next day at the lake house, as if that’s the most perfectly logical thing to do right after you wife has died in a horrific home invasion. Clearly this level of creepy callousness runs in the family. And then he goes and marries the woman a day after that. I was honestly a surprised the cops weren’t following his suspicious ass in unmarked cars.
The introduction of Mistress Lady is also the point in the movie where we go from ‘girl’s a little dysfunctional’ to ‘fuck dysfunction, chica has issues.’ Because this is where the film points out that Julie not only loves her daddy, but she REALLY loves her daddy. Like, a lot. Like, in terribly unhealthy ways a lot. Ways that should never be mentioned or put to film ever again.
Okay, this is going to require a completely different kind of therapist.
This is where I have to reluctantly give the movie kudos. Most films with kids obsessed with their parents only hint at this kind of motivation. But Daughter of Death just…goes for it. So, good job, movie. You royally squigged me out, but way to not beat around the bush.
This is the point where Julie stops being just a selfish little brat and takes up a more proactive role in being evil, actively looking for ways to knock off people she feels are getting in between her and her…daddy. *shudder* She even enlists (read: tries to blackmail) her mother’s killer for a hit on her new stepmom and sends her one ‘friend’ unwittingly to her death.
So turns out some of her mother’s concerns about her getting out more and away from her father were totally justified. Who’d a thunk it?
Certainly not the NRA
So yeah, this movie is messed up. The motivation is creepy as hell (and also a bit flimsy when examined), none of the characters are particularly likable, a lot of the story beats are familiar, there’s not a lot of blood and it’s not particularly stylish, looking more like a made for TV movie than a feature film. But it’s well directed and, though unlikable, it’s lead (Isabelle Mejias) is ultimately fascinating to watch. It’s kinda trash, but it’s well paced 80’s trash, which I can totally dig. If you’re looking for a different horror/thriller, this might be something worth looking into.
Daughter of Death is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
*Note: I did take some screenshots, but please note that only the square ones are mine. The rectangular ones I got online from the bluray transfer. Like other horror movies on Prime, I’ve noticed that this version does not have the best transfer. It’s likely straight from a VHS copy and it looks like it’s been cropped a bit. I only know that last part because I noticed that some of the credits were lopped off on the right. So keep that in mind.