Women on screen are so rarely allowed to be bad people. Redeemable qualities must be injected into even the most abhorrent of female characters, and this is only amplified when the character in question is a mother. Neglect of a child is a role that any fictional father may take up, but as a woman, the mother must ultimately soften even when her dedication is in doubt.
Destroyer avoids these pitfalls in its depiction of detective Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), a grizzled LAPD cop with a dark past and a difficult nature. Bell, in all aspects but her gender, is the stereotypical protagonist of every police procedural ever created. She has an awful relationship with her family, works alone wherever possible, and goes off the books to the dismay of her superiors — but through it all, she is exceptionally talented at what she does. It is fantastic, from a representation perspective, to see this familiar trope be transported into the body of an older woman, with all the wrinkles and blemished skin that comes with aging. Kidman is reliably incredible within the role, as piercing and intimidating as any lone wolf officer should be. Here we have a woman over the age of fifty, who is so often dismissed by the media, take centre stage —and she is permitted to be irredeemable.
Horror has always provided a foundation for social commentary. As an audience, our fear of the monsters on screen can reflect – or negate – the fears that are deeply rooted within our communities. Gender, therefore, is an obvious topic for the horror director, and the academic links between feminist analysis and genre filmmaking are extensive. It’s the reason why Much Ado takes part in ‘Women in Horror Month’; we wish to highlight the fact that women excel when it comes to the monstrous and the terrifying.
Karyn Kusama lies at the very heart of this link, as a horror filmmaker who places female stories front-and-centre within her work. Her protagonists are richly developed, flawed and driven – whether that be for blood, success, or revolution. Her films provide subtle commentary upon the patriarchal grip of masculinity, the immovable nature of grief, and the overbearing pressure of maternal love. Her stories are interwoven with humour, poignancy, and wit. From ‘Jennifer’s Body’ to ‘The Invitation’, Kusama’s short filmography is an example of how female filmmakers truly own the horror genre.