February is Women in Horror month. Obviously, we all read horror written by women all year round, and if you don’t then you’re missing out. They know what scares us and bring their A-Game to every story. When it comes to horror films, women creators are sadly under-represented. Fortunately, some of the best horror films in recent years have been written, produced, and directed by women. From cannibalistic nightmares to metaphorical boogeymen, women are diving deeper into our collective fears and coming at us from perspectives that challenge our concepts of reality, delivering hard-hitting scares mingled with scathing social commentary.
A recent favorite is The Invitation, directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Æon Flux, Jennifer’s Body). A dinner-party that doesn’t have a happy ending. Shot almost entirely in one house, The Invitation deals with an unreliable narrator (Logan Marshall-Green) discovering his reality is quickly becoming more unstable than he is. A little subtle, but not quite a slow-burn as some have called it, Kusama expertly and deliberately lingered on some scenes to draw out the tension. Each scene is tight and effectively shifts to the next reveal. The major tip-off that the film is about to go off the rails is when John Carroll Lynch shows up. This guy oozes crazy, so whenever you see him on screen, you know something is going to happen, even if you don’t know who he is. It’s watching how he brings the crazy that’s the biggest thrill of all. Fortunately for us, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, the screenwriters for The Invitation, are writing another film for Kusama, so we’ll be seeing her work again in the near future.
After watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when she was just six years old, Julia Ducournau kept that brutal imagery in her head and used it as inspiration for her debut film Raw. Justine (Garance Marillier) goes off to veterinarian school; the same school where her parents met, and her older sister now attends. A dedicated and disciplined vegetarian, Justine eats a raw rabbit kidney as part of a longstanding school hazing ritual. Soon, she develops a craving for raw meat that she cannot control. This craving runs deeper than anyone could expect, and wider than you could have ever anticipated. By shifting the “they” perspective of the cannibal to “I”, we’re able to see the genre in a completely different light, showing how people can become obsessed and compelled to dine on human flesh. Raw is one of those rare horror films that is not only a descent into madness but will also crush your heart with nearly every scene. Rumor is that Ducournau’s next film will be about a serial killer, so we definitely can’t wait to see it.
Stylish and fresh, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, transfuses new blood into the time-worn vampire trope. Tagged as “The first Iranian Vampire Western”, there’s no doubt you’re watching something you really haven’t seen before. Shot in black and white, the film is absolutely gorgeous, and captures the underlying ‘grey’ mood of the story. Good and bad get tossed around a little, but the story does stick to a moral code somewhat. It’s listed as a Western, but it’s a modern day Western, full of bad drug dealers, a good guy caught in a terrible predicament, and a beautiful but lonely vampire girl, bored and doomed, looking for love. The film is light on the tropes, so it doesn’t worry about trying to cover all the bases with the vampire lore, which is quite refreshing and allows the vampire, Sheila Vand, space to explore her character more deeply. Ana Lily Amirpour’s latest film, The Bad Batch, was released earlier last year to mixed reviews, but nonetheless shows she’s willing and able to stretch herself through genres to create the kind of story she wants to tell.
Actress Jennifer Kent worked as an apprentice for Lars Von Trier before taking her place in the director’s chair. Two short films later she wrote and directed The Babadook and took 2014 by storm with one of the best and most talked about horror films in quite a while. Kent has stated in interviews she’s never thought of The Babadook as a horror film, that the scares are just a by-product of the psychological tension of the story. But there are still scares aplenty, and the viewer is left with the lingering question if the boogeyman in the film was real, or just a manifestation of a woman crossing the edge of madness. Regardless of the intent, The Babadook is one of the scariest films we’ve seen in a long time, and its subtle ambiguity only adds to the dread.
One of the freshest visionaries on the scene right now is Izzy Lee. With several short films to her name, including Innsmouth (2015), Rites of Vengeance (2017) and For a Good Time, Call … (2017), Lee has established herself as a dedicated and skilled director. Fearless and unflinching, she goes for the throat and doesn’t let go. She writes her own scripts and maintains a hands-on approach with acting, production, even special effects and makeup. Though her current subjects are short films, that doesn’t mean they’re short on scares. Using visceral imagery and a close eye for detail, her films linger on the mind long after the credits roll. The good news for us is she’s currently working on her first feature film, My Monster, which should hopefully release sometime this year.
As mentioned before, this area of horror entertainment is sorely underrepresented, though with more women taking the director’s chair, we all hope this will change over time. It needs to change, and we can all do better to make it happen. These women are just a few working right now with horror films that have captivated our attention over the past few years. For some, these films are their first, so we definitely cannot wait to see what they come up with next. We hope you take the time to check out their films if you haven’t yet, or watch them again to relive the horror again and again.