Women in horror are without doubt a force to be reckoned with. It seems that every year, more and more horror films directed by women are reaching the surface and gaining recognition at international film festivals, by audiences and by critics.
For example, the remake of the 1976 classic Carrie was directed by Kimberly Pierce in 2013. In 2014 Stewart Thorndike directed Lyle, which she jokingly described as the ‘lesbian remake of Rosemary’s Baby’, and Ana Lily Amirpour directed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which was critically acclaimed and incredibly well received.
But the film that stole the show in 2014 was Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. If you haven’t seen it already, the film tells the story about a single mother who has to take care of Sam, her son, as their mental state deteriorates. The film gained a lot of praise and has opened doors for female directors, especially in its native Australia.
The following year Tara Subkoff directed #Horror and Karyn Kusama, who directed Jennifer’s Body in 2009, released The Invitation, which again received a great reaction from critics, and wowed audiences that managed to see it.
It’s no doubt that women have been shattering taboos and finding their place in the horror genre for a number of years now, but during last year alone Alice Lowe released Prevenge, which she wrote, directed and starred in whilst pregnant. Julia Ducournau released her latest film Raw, that found its way into the headlines for provoking extreme audience reactions during the Toronto International Film Festival. And who can overlook the wonderful The Love Witch, directed by Anna Biller. Yes, it’s been a great year, indeed.
And it doesn’t seem to be stopping… Last month saw the release of the highly anticipated XX which again helped highlight the power of women in horror films, by being the first horror anthology directed only by women. Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, St. Vincent and Jovanka Vuckovic were the women behind it, each directing one unique segment.
During a post-screening Q&A held by The Final Girls (a film collective based in London), Jovanka Vuckovic stated that each story had to fit into three categories: it needed to be written and directed by a woman, and have a female protagonist. The film is not only a response to the growing presence of women in horror, but also a nod to the lack thereof.
Still, in 2017, the number of women actually behind the scenes of horror films hovered around the 10% mark – which was the reason why, when putting the crew together, XX prioritised women.
This form of sorority, where women in power help push other women up the ladder has been spotted in other filmmakers too. Jen and Sylvia Soska broke into the horror scene in 2009 with their first indie film Dead Hooker in the Trunk, and have consolidated their place in the genre ever since. They have stated in many interviews that they prioritise women in their crew.
Moreover, they often speak openly to their female viewers, and give tips to women who want to be a horror filmmaker. Not only that, many horror filmmakers are calling out on the misogyny on and off screen in the genre. Therefore, not only do the stories that are being told go against the rooted misogyny in the genre, but also the way the films are shot and the women characters are portrayed.
XX has its strong and weak points, that I think work well together. Each segment has a distinct voice and appeals to various tastes. The link among the films is a creepy stop-motion animation (created by Sofia Carrillo), that works beautifully on its own as well as being the vehicle to to ease the audience into another segment.
To begin with there’s Vuckovic’s The Box, which is based on a short story by Jack Ketchum that portrays a mother’s will to give herself up to her family. Then there’s St. Vicent’s The Birthday Party: a dark comedy about a woman having trouble with her daughter’s birthday celebration as she finds that not only has her husband died, but she also has to deal with noisy neighbours.
The next segment is the only ‘straight-up’ horror, directed by Roxanne Benjamin. Don’t Fall is a body horror that tells the story of four friends who go on a camping trip, and are killed by a monstrous being. Lastly, Kusama’s Her Only Living Son coincidentally overlaps with Vuckovic’s segment, as it also portrays maternal sacrifice.
The whole piece is beautifully well shot and edited, and I think the way it’s individually presented in different, unique subgenres really helps the audience identify with the ongoing female angst to find its place in horror.
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