Described as a “traumedy” and navigating a narrative I have no personal connection to – or even a right to comment on in all honesty – Molly McGlynn‘s Bloody Hell has the same footprints as a coming-of-age comedy, but laces such with a queer mentality and the potential dehumanising reality of when your body “rejects” its expected formation.
At the core of McGlynn’s film is Lindy (Maddie Ziegler, who, between this and The Fallout, has more than made up for her turn in the wholly misguided Sia-directed Music), a 16-year-old who is diagnosed with MRKH Syndrome, a rare congenital disorder characterised by an underdeveloped (sometimes absent) uterus and vagina, that affects the female reproductive system.
It’s clinical and medical horror, and it not only disrupts Lindy’s intention to have sex with her boyfriend (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai, continuing his SXSW run after equally charming work in Only the Good Survive), but her own presumptions of her body and what that means for motherhood, as well as challenging her relationship with her mother (Emily Hampshire). Lindy is understandably angry and upset at her diagnosis – the scene in which she’s examined is particularly heartbreaking in its internalised tragedy – and because of this she lashes out in ways that make her not always the most likeable person. But even in Lindy’s selfish actions, Ziegler maintains our sympathy and understanding as an audience, and it’s because she’s such a flawed character that Bloody Hell exists in such a real, authentic environment.
As much as Lindy believes the worst has occurred for her, the film throws her a bone (metaphorically speaking) and lets her explore her sexuality beyond the constructs of what she thinks she’s meant to adhere to. Yes, her going to a high-school inclusive session about exploring the other facets of gender is propelled by her reproductive issues, but in meeting – and bonding – with Jax (Ki Griffin), who is intersex, Lindy feels more confident in exploring her own self further. Griffin is a luminous presence, and when paired with Ziegler, they elevate their character beyond any type of saviour temperament that might be suggested through the pairing.
Exploring identity, gender, and how medicine can play such an affecting role in both facets, Bloody Hell may be a deeply personal experience for McGlynn herself, but her ability to project something so intimate and invite us in on a comparable level speaks to her strength as a storyteller.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Bloody Hell is screening as part of this year’s SXSW Film Festival coverage, running between March 10th and 18th, 2023, in Austin, Texas. For more information head to the official SXSW website.