“They’re just girls, man. What’s there to be afraid of?”
This cuts to the heart of Benjamin Barfoot’s feature debut Double Date. When Alex (Michael Socha) poses the question, he intends it to be purely rhetorical, as he attempts to persuade his friend Jim (Danny Morgan, who also wrote the screenplay) to follow through on the offer of a double date with seductive sisters Lulu (Georgia Groome) and Kitty (Kelly Wenham). Jim, an almost-30-year-old virgin, knows that the sisters are out of his league and suspects that they, in their sexual forwardness, “were clearly taking the piss.” Alex wants his friend to overcome his anxieties about the opposite sex, and to “be a man.” Yet we know that Jim’s apprehensions are well placed – for a prologue to the film showed the sisters luring their previous drunken dates to a country mansion and brutally murdering them there.
These are the two dividing lines in Double Date. On the one hand, there is this battle of the sexes (literalised in the climax), in which male bluster conceals confusion and fear, while female availability and submission are covers for ruthless calculation and kickass strength. On the other, there is the clash of different genres, as obstacle after obstacle hinders the film from reaching the ending of horror that we know awaits Jim and Alex at the hands of the media-dubbed ‘Maneaters’ – and along the way there are comedic observations aplenty of modern courtship rituals (drinking, clubbing, meet the parents, back for sex), even as a gentle (and genuine) romance develops between Jim and Lulu that promises to derail the sisters’ diabolical scheme. Where Alex engages in the worst kind of predatory male behaviour – exploiting near unconscious women, spiking drinks – Jim remains a decent if bumbling gentleman, which means he has met his perfect match in Lulu, the nice girl with scruples where her sister, mirroring Jim’s ‘bruvva’, has only bad intentions.
Despite its two-edged title (alluding both to the foursome’s night out and to Jim’s simultaneous thirtieth birthday), Double Date is also a tale of three families. There is Jim’s loving, happy-flappy clan, who innocently mistake Jim’s ecstasy-induced convulsions for his being ‘touched by the Holy Spirit’, and who continue to treat him like the little boy depicted on their specially printed birthday T-shirts. Then there is Alex’s single dad (Dexter Fletcher), who the four visit in his porn-strewn caravan just as a prostitute is leaving. Lastly there is the dysfunctional household of Kitty and Lulu, part Vampyres, part The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Triangulate between these three very different genetic pools, and you end up with the sort of genre hybrid that is as charming and funny as it is brutal. Meanwhile its feminist serial killings – committed, paradoxically, in the name of a patriarchal ‘daddy’ – slyly turn the tables on our expectations of both genders.