**Warning: Contains Spoilers**
For nine consecutive years, February has marked, Women in Horror Month, a movement that gives a voice to those underrepresented within the horror film industry. The campaign not only equates to actresses and directors but to a breadth of roles within the genre from cinematographers to writers to media personalities.
Women in Horror Month continues to raise awareness and highlight the overlooked talent in the business. The campaign founded by Hannah Neurotica, editor of the AxWound Blog that is dedicated to the subject of gender in horror has become an international success by spreading the word throughout social media, hosting the annual charity blood drives and supporting female fronted media. Now, just shy of a decade, the ninth Women in Horror Month continues to showcase events across the globe, bringing the work of talented females to the forefront and celebrating their achievements.
While the Women in Horror Movement is stronger than ever, the purpose of this article is to delve into the current representation of females in the movies themselves. Horror has always been a reaction to the events occurring within society and in 2018 this is no different. From the shock and displeasure of the Donald Trump presidency to the untimely effects of the Hollywood sexual assault scandal and subsequent, #MeToo/ #TimesUp campaigns, what does horror say about the portrayal of women and is the genre offering up more diversity in the female characters it now depicts. Horror is ever changing and has begun to move with the times. The huge impact of Jordan Peele’s 2017, social thriller ‘Get Out’ following its attainment of four Oscar nominations is a colossal breakthrough for a genre that is frequently misunderstood. Get Out is a prime example of progression that hopefully will continue. In this article I have selected a variety of female characters from films released between 2016-2018 to illustrate the dynamicity of current female status in horror.
Casting our minds back to 2016, a female-directed French film exploded into the pop culture sphere and instantly started making waves; that film was of course, Julia Ducournau’s Raw. Disregarding the media’s promise of the film being a pass out-inducing gore fest, Raw proved that it was making a far more interesting statement than audiences were led to believe. Raw is an appetizing coming of age story, which sees the pivotal transformation of its lead character Justine (Garance Marillier), from naive teenager to flesh eating fiend. The film epitomizes the notion of Justine’s sexual awakening and her own personal sense of self-discovery. Yes, it is a provocative and uncomfortable viewing experience at times but already there’s an unbelievable character arc and relatable topics in place against a horror backdrop, which isn’t something to dismiss.
Ducournau was not afraid to take risks with the film and instantaneously led the way for far more complexity and audacity in the construction of female characters. They no longer should sustain to stereotype. Depicting the ‘girl-next-door’ style, clean cut heroine or the bitchy popular teen is no longer enough for eagle-eyed consumers of horror, films such as Raw is what’s keeping the genre alive. Here, we have something far edgier and challenging on display and in my opinion the stage was set for more to come in 2017.
Remaining on the subject of adolescence, there are recent films, which provided an insight into the teenage girl in peril composed with a streak of independency and strength about them.
The updated rendition of Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a character first seen in Stephen King’s 1986 novel, IT is the most mainstream example. Harbouring a tragic backstory with a history of abuse, Beverly holds up a shield of confidence within her public persona (bullying, derogatory name-calling); but when we see her face the terror of her father alone, her vulnerability emerges. She is at her strongest when united with her best friends, who all happen to be male. She takes no chances when it comes to protecting her friends and tackles Pennywise head on, impaling him through the head with a sharp object. Her fearlessness for the creepy clown makes her even more tantalizing to him and is why he abducts her prior to the films climax. She is also a key player in terms of luring the boys to him.
In some respects, Beverly could be considered ‘one of the boys’. She is treated as an equal in their circle; however is naturally objectified by the hormonal male teenagers! She chops off her long locks of hair to remove herself from her father’s twisted affections and as well to distance herself from the girls who antagonize her. Beverly is both respected and admired in terms in her girlhood, making her an exceptionally well-rounded character.
Along similar lines, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge), the female protagonist in Better Watch Out is a soon to be College Freshman. Aside from the mother role, Ashley is the only on-screen female character in the film and the object of affection for the main character, twelve-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) as well as two ex-boyfriends. It could be viewed that the fact she is female is what essentially puts her in peril once the shocking twist is revealed. Ashley is smart, with a clever determination for survival. She manages to outwit her attacker on several occasions due to her maturity and trusting demeanour. These are just two examples of adolescent characters who are not afraid to break the rules showcasing a head strong nature. It’s a clear case of young women fighting back at a young age, which is an essential attribute to have within the misogynistic political climate.
Returning to February 2017, in which I attended the Sheffield leg of the Prevenge UK tour, a pitch-black comedy shrouded in uncompromising horror. Star and Director Alice Lowe spoke about how the lack of dynamic roles in the industry for older women had galvanized her into writing this expertly witty yet equally disturbing film. She gave herself the opportunity to play a role that had so many layers. The heroine, the antagonist and the comic relief was all rolled into one to create this murderous mother! Lowe demonstrated that stereotypes can be broken and there should be more roles out there for older women that just being designated to the generic mother type.
The most significant film that needs to be addressed is Natalia Leite’s M.F.A. I stated in my top horror movies of 2017 that this is one of the most important rape revenge titles ever put to film. M.F.A is an eye-opener to how the emotional and physical after effects of rape are often dismissed by authority. It centers on an aspiring artist and student, played beautifully by Francesca Eastwood who is sexually assaulted by a potential love interest at a party. The narrative therefore opens this can of worms and when the appropriate channels fail her, she takes matters into her own hands with devastating consequences.
Without a doubt, the film manages to parallel the very real Hollywood scandal that saw many aspiring young actresses silenced for too long by a powerful organisation that was more concerned in protecting its own foundations. Finally, these women are taking a stand and exposing their abusers for all the damage they have inflicted. Much like the real case, M.F.A doesn’t leave the audience empowered by the character’s actions or the final resolution.
The film leaves the viewer with an infuriating, blood boiler of a viewing experience. M.F.A is a platform that will aid discussion surrounding the issue at hand, inform and raise awareness. Time is up and M.F.A has successfully paved the way for more confrontational, thought provoking films that will be difficult to ignore.
Finally, on the other end of the spectrum there are the villainous female characters. Horror loves a good bitch and the genre does manage to represent a range of personalities to keep things interesting. Notably, one of the most incensed villains is Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) in the Oscar-Nominated Get Out. Through multiple viewings, and once the audience is aware of the twist, all the signs and symbolism is glaring when following Rose’s actions. She is seemingly the ‘All-American white girl’ who has defied type and fallen for an African-American man. She transpires to become one of the most sociopathic manipulators by assisting her family and indulging in their unorthodox crimes and warped ways of thinking.
Rose isn’t all what she seems, rather than the down to earth, modern woman she professes to be she is the complete opposite and an impeccably callous villain. It is discovered that her manipulation of current boyfriend Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is one in a long line. In a revealing scene, Chris discovers an array of photographs which chronicles that Rose has targeted not only men but the housemaid Georgina, too meaning her sexuality is more fluid than is initially let on. Rose proves to be unrepentant and devious.
In the scene near the beginning where the couple hit a deer and are questioned by the officer, Rose comes across as if she is defending Chris against what she believes is societal prejudice. However, she is simply covering her own tracks and ensuring that the police have no records of Chris’s whereabouts. Rose is highly ruthless and if there was an award for the biggest bitch in a recent horror movie, she would take the crown, hands down.
An interesting entry into the subversive slasher sub-genre is Tyler MacIntyre’s Tragedy Girls. Depicting two social media obsessed teenage girls as unsuspecting serial killers; the female characters portrayed are typical superficial high school students with a dark lust for death and the attention it brings with it. The film is completely satirical, offering up the idea that two “harmless” adolescents could be that devious and deadly and work it towards their own popularity.
To a degree, it is a cynical rendition of the social media infatuated society. MacIntyre and co-writer Chris Lee Hill manages to make Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) likeably detestable as their general outlook and superficiality is entertaining to watch. They allow the audience to root for the Tragedy Girls in the same vein as they would usually cheer on the heroine while being deliciously bad. Its an intriguing take on the teenage girl aside the horror antagonist and seemingly fun to play from an acting perspective.
A film that spun gender stereotypes on its head was 68 Kill, a high octane, exploitation fuelled thriller featuring three badass women who will go to extreme lengths to get their hands on cold, hard cash! Annalynne McCord is acclaimed for her roles as headstrong, vindictive women and she certainly pulls no punches as the sex/cash-crazed, Liza who coheres her sweet natured and undeserving boyfriend Chip (Matthew Gray Gubler) into participating in her crimes. Despite the emasculation his character endures, he becomes wiser to her and fights back equally as hard. Along the way, Violet (Alisha Boe) becomes entangled in the unwonted couples’ schemes and her involvement sees the tables turn. Violet is a kick ass female who gives as good as she gets against Liza. The casting of Alisha Boe was a welcome addition as leading roles for black women in the genre are still criminally underrepresented.
It’s rare to ever see an ethnic final girl as she is normally demoted to the “best friend” role, the victim or the villain as previously discussed in relation to Tragedy Girls. While 68 Kill paves the way forward to a certain degree, Violet does end up becoming a pawn in the story to facilitate Chip’s arc rather than a stand out on her own. 68 Kill is essentially about women vs. men and oversteps the boundaries of empowerment. What 68 Kill does endeavour is its creation of three tough females who are vastly different from each other, this includes Sheila Vand’s reprehensible, Monica, a gothic store clerk who is more dangerous than first anticipated. What they do share in common is how they embrace their own sexuality and are more sexually forward than Chip as the lead male character, which again proves subversive.
When looking back at the characters discussed, it’s fair to say that boundaries are beginning to be broken in terms of stereotypes and the limitations the genre were placing on female characters. There has been a surge in female writers and directors and overall horror is becoming so much smarter and sophisticated in its portrayals. 2018 is an interesting time for women who are finding a voice and taking charge. All the characters in present horror films are fairly diverse and there is a lot to be said about them.
There is more dynamicity in the movies and strong statements being made; however there is still a lack of racial and transgender diversity, which needs to be challenged and represented. Boundaries are starting to break, now let’s see 2018 break them that little bit further.