Female Director Spotlight: Karyn Kusama and Gendered Horror

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.

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Karyn Kusama on set of Aeon Flux (2005). © Paramount Pictures

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.

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Raw: On desires of the flesh, French extremity, and female sexuality

When Raw premiered at Cannes in 2016, it quickly became known amongst audiences as the ‘French, cannibalistic horror’ that led some to leave screenings in search of the nearest bathroom to relieve their nausea. To allow Raw to be talked about only as a shocking feature, for it to be remembered solely for the physical reactions it provoked in viewers, however, would be to disservice it hugely. Julia Ducornau’s daring debut is far more than an exercise in body horror. Rather, it is a truly unique take on a genre that has been done hundreds of times before: the coming-of-age drama. The story of a young woman forging an identity for herself is not exactly a new concept, for the Romantic and Victorian novels of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters were often centred around the same subject, but never has it been tackled in the way that it is by Ducornau. With Raw, Ducornau takes the moment in a teenage girl’s life in which she verges on womanhood and uses it to craft a truly horrifying piece, in which carnal desires are explored in the most unexpected of manners.

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Women in Horror Month: 9 Essential Horror Films Directed by Women

Happy Women in Horror Month! As I’m sure many others would agree, the horror genre can often feel incredibly male-dominated. Violence against women within these films is usually prominent, and in a world obsessed with inflicting this same violence in reality, being able to reclaim such a powerful tool as the horror movie is a very great thing. Besides which, this is a genre which naturally links itself to feminist thought. Traditional aspects of horror such as vampire lore, the final girl, slasher film tropes and the revenge plot all revolve around feminist themes, and it is not surprising that much academic discussion in this area concerns gender. In any case, after watching as many female-directed examples as I can find, I’ve firmly decided that women make the best horror movies. Take a look at the nine films below, and I’m sure you’ll agree.

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), dir. Ana Lily Amirpour

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Sheila Vand in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014). © Kino Lorber

Dark, stylish and atmospheric, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ is the Iranian vampire Western we never knew we needed. A sparse narrative cloaked in monochromatic tones illustrates themes of gendered violence, as the eponymous Girl hunts down villainous men. Vampire movies and feminist discourse have always gone hand in hand – the symbolic neck bite forming a transferal of agency – and Amirpour exploits this natural kinship whilst adding her own original mark to the genre. For ‘A Girl’ is a quiet, brooding movie, moving from character to character at a pace that some may find too sluggish. But this hesitance to over-embellish in a field that can so often be flamboyant is what gives the film its strength; the small moments form something so much greater, and it is the overall mood of the piece, rather than one scene or another, that marks it as a classic for feminist horror.

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The Dark, Wild, Feminist Liberation of “The Witch”

This essay is by our guest writer Cassidy Olsen. 

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© A24

The phrase “Satanic feminist art film” will get you laughed out most rooms that aren’t a liberal arts classroom or the Hot Topic in your hometown mall, so it should come as no surprise that A24 struggled to brand The Witch for audiences upon its wide release in 2016. Written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror movie by almost any standard, riddled with the genre’s usual tropes of supernatural possession, exorcism and things that go bump in the night, but it has little regard for audience expectations. By relying on period-appropriate language (“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”) and opting for meditation in place of jump scares, The Witch left hardcore horror fans wanting and others asking, “What did I just watch?”

The answer? Well, a Satanic feminist art film.

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In The Vision of Guillermo Del Toro’s Magical Realism and Universal Symbolism

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Guillermo with his Golden Lion for his latest work “Shape of Water” at the Venice Film Festival. | Courtesy of Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images.

* This piece contains spoilers on the endings of Del Toro’s 2006 work Pan’s Labyrinth, 2015 work Crimson Peak and 2017 work Shape of Water. 

My relationship with literature long before I knew how to read, with my mother taking at least half an hour of her night before my bedtime to read me stories. There was never a single night lacking the sound of turning pages and her raspy yet sweet voice; no matter how tired or sad she was, my mother would knock on my door exacly at nine thirthy, and we would spend our little quality time together until I fell asleep in her arms. And if there’s one reason that I became an avid reader, a maybe-future writer, a literature student: it is because of her, and her efforts.

This, of course, also meant that as I grew older and older, our libraries merged into one, too. Of course, there wwere my populist fantasy series — looking at you Harry Potter and Twilight —, which I would read even on my way to home from school while walking, and there were her thick, old looking books from Turkish novelists. Somewhere in the middle, just after I became a highschool  student and started one of the hardest periods of my teenage years, I started picking up books from her side of the shelves. Then came Paul Coelho and Isabel Allende, Camus and Christie, Le Guin and Kafka, but most important of them all, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He was the favorite writer of my mother, and he quickly became mine too.  His writing style, even when translated, had the power to carry me from my reality to another one; one that still seemed so close yet so far away, a purgatory between reality and dream. As I learned later later, this was called magical realism, a very popular type of fiction from Latin American literature that was known for its merging of fantasy elements with otherwise “normal” settings.

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Catching the Big Fish with David Lynch

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*The following piece is by our guest writer Vikram Zutshi

On Jan 20th, David Lynch, unquestionably the foremost surrealist artist of our times, turns 72. It is as good a time as any to take stock of his eclectic and wide-ranging oeuvre, which includes film, music, art, literature, photography and architecture.

His films take us deep beneath the quotidian surface of small town America, a space he knows intimately, where sublime truths and dark fantasies play out, unhindered by the strictures of consensual reality. Early impressions and memories of an all-American childhood in rural Montana in the 50’s inform much of the artist’s work.

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“Thelma”: A Striking Imagery of Female Power Told In European Art-house Style

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Eili Harboe as the titular character in Thelma. | Photo: Imagine Film/The Orchard

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” whispers Margaret White to herself, near the start of the infamous third arc of Brian De Palma’s 1976-made cult masterpiece Carrie, based on Stephen Kings’s novel of the same name and starring Sissy Spacek in the titular role of a demure, innocent high-school girl who realizes she has telekinetic powers after her first period. The setting is the movie’s silence before the storm, with Carrie having just left her mother alone in their home to go to the prom, which is in itself an act of rebellion that accumulates the varying loose threads of her growing confidence in a final push against her mother, who begs her not the go many times, basing her protests on the ground that “they’re (as in her peers) all gonna laugh at her”. Carrie doesn’t listen to her mother’s paranoid arguments and leaves, happy to finally be seen as beautiful and noteworthy, her breasts showing behind her pink dress and a corsage in her hand, given by William Katt’s Tommy Ross.

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