Lisa, Stephanie, and Natalie are three teenaged girls left alone in Lisa’s parents’ house. As they indulge in whatever games suit their fancy, Stephanie relates a story about her dad’s experience in the Algerian War. Afterwards, a phantom soldier continuously visits the three, menacing and raping them.
Pierre B Reinhard’s Tracking (aka Ghost Soldier) is a difficult film, not so much because of its subject matter but because of the way it treats it. The movie, by and large, is about the aftermath of rape, the PTSD suffered by its victims, and the arbitrariness of victimhood. Each of the girls is attacked at least once, though Lisa seems to get more attention than the other two. These attacks happen randomly and suddenly. The Soldier is usually represented via POV handheld camera, and it’s interesting that the faces of all the male characters are never shown clearly. This ghost is something called forth from the spinning of a tale, which recounts itself in the first present-time attack scene. Stephanie’s dad used to tell her this story, about how he had sex with a peasant girl in Algeria for a bottle of champagne. That night, Lisa is assaulted and violated with a champagne bottle. Importantly, this scene plays out at first as if it were a flashback with the protagonists playing the roles of the peasants. It boggles the mind that Stephanie’s father would not only relate this story to his daughter (though not his wife) but also tell her how it’s the best memory he had from his time in the military.
The presentation of this sequence, however, and of the girls themselves, is pure prurience. Natalie is threatened with a straight razor while in the bathroom. When Natalie is attacked the first time, she is backed into a shower, which is turned on. The Soldier then slices her clothes off, and the camera gawps at her exposed breasts and sopping wet lingerie. When the girls are initially introduced, Lisa is focused on, prancing around in her underwear. When the three play dress up, Reinhard focuses intensely on their naked bodies as they get changed. It raises an intriguing question: Do these girls deserve what happens to them (by dint of the fact that the film is so obsessed with their physical attributes, which they show off freely), and if not, how does the viewer’s enjoyment of the attacks (they are, after all, shot from the audience’s perspective) reflect on their own attitudes toward the subject? Reinhard does not separate the horror of the act from the exploitation of it. On the one hand, it’s serious about the situation, on the other, it’s serious about turning the viewer on with its kinks.
Another aspect of the film is the maturation of these girls into adulthood or, at the absolute minimum, the desire to do so. All of their parents are absent. Lisa’s aunt (?) Christina appears periodically to chastise the girls, plug the telephone back in, and remind them to take birth control. Yet, Christina is ineffectual in her “guidance,” partly because she’s far too casual about allowing the girls free rein and partly because the girls resent her presence as an authority figure. The girls, like teenagers everywhere, know everything there is to know about everything, so they don’t need to pay attention to some “old” person who may have been where they are. In fact, the girls hate Christina so much, they actually try to murder her with a rifle. As Christina drives up to the house, she is tracked through a set of crosshairs. As she drives away, Lisa finally takes a shot, blowing out Christina’s car tire. The teens then lament not being able to kill her on the open road, because some passerby stopped to assist with her car. The girls play house, having dinner and booze, and they begin to roleplay in an adult (not in the porn sense) fantasy. Lisa becomes the wife, Stephanie the husband, and Natalie the husband’s mistress. As the film winds on, the protagonists go so far as to dress their parts in an effort to protect themselves. Nevertheless, the façade is not enough to deter the attacks. The maturity the girls attempt to emulate is, more or less, like a beacon for the Soldier, their introduction into “adulthood” a trauma. It carries an air of “be careful what you wish for” while also bearing a certain statement on the callous treatment of women by men (the reason we never see men’s faces is because they are every man, everywhere). “Sex is life,” the message left on a mirror by the Soldier, is both honest and ominous.
How the girls deal with their ordeal is also key to the film’s theme. Both Lisa and Natalie have flashbacks to their assaults when they come in contact with the objects with which they were attacked (a bottle and a straight razor, respectively). The two have meltdowns, and Lisa even tries to run off into the woods at one point. Stephanie appears to be (on the surface, at least), the strongest of the three. She tries to be the masculine defender of her “family.” She is the one who carries the rifle. She searches the grounds for the Soldier in an endeavor to confront him, become the hunter not the prey. She is comforting to Lisa and Natalie, and she continues to put up a brave front when it becomes plain that she will have her turn. Rather than resist, she offers her body to the ghost, attempts to bargain her sexuality for the removal of the violence which accompanies his attacks. She figures it would still be unwanted sex (read: rape), but perhaps it can be made less harrowing. Even she breaks down, however, when her time comes. She lashes out, shooting the rifle randomly, an impotent venting of rage against something ineffable and unerasable. The film becomes muddled because it throws cause and effect out the window, but this is also a large portion of its point. To make it all black and white robs it of any impact it may have. But still, the grey that the film immerses itself in is just as problematic due to the overt sexualization of its leads. Ultimately, the girls carry their damage onward, and there is an exorcism of a sort, though its efficacy is in serious doubt. After all, how do you destroy something so primal in the hearts of men?
MVT: For as scattershot as it makes itself, Reinhard’s approach to the story is admirable in its daring, if not in effectiveness.
Make or Break: The moment you realize you’re not watching a flashback, and you’re not watching a traditional ghost story.