Five Truly Feminist Horror Films

Last weekend, Amanda Hess wrote a piece for The New York Times about new “murder podcasts” that have been appealing to women. She explored why women might be drawn to such grisly tales: “A 2010 study suggests that women in particular are drawn to true crime because it provides an outlet for managing anxieties about becoming victims, and to glean survival skills on how to escape or outsmart predators.”

This made me consider my love of horror movies. From childhood, I was intrigued (and terrified) by movies like the original IT and Dr. Giggles. In recent years, I’ve grown even more obsessed, to the point where a few close friends and I have a shared Horror Movie Google doc we update with recs. It’s a bit of a clash with the rest of my life—yoga teacher, social work student, feminist activist, etc. But perhaps it makes sense. As Hess noted, horror movies provide catharsis in a society where women are often oppressed and ignored. They often star women, and instead of these protagonists spending their time pining over men, they fight for their lives and often outwit or even kill their male captors.

But even these types of movies are usually made by men. And when watching smart, provocative female-led movies like Under the Shadow, It Follows, and Gerald’s Game, I’m always a little sad to see that the writers and directors are male. And so, I set out to make a list of movies that met the following three conditions:

  1. Director OR screenwriter is female 
  2. Protagonist is female (and awesome)
  3. Made in the last 5 years

Finding movies that met these three conditions turned out to be harder than I anticipated, and I asked friends on social media to help me out. I watched a few new movies and revisited old favorites. Some, like The Love Witch and Ouija, were entertaining but not films I’d push a friend to see. Others, like xx, were sadly disappointing and not at all scary. In the end, I had a list of five movies that are brilliant, well-executed, and feature complex female leads.

 

PREVENGE (2016)

Writer and Director: Alice Lowe

Description: Ruth, who’s eight months pregnant, goes on a killing spree to avenge her husband’s death. The reason? Her unborn child is ordering her to. Alice Lowe also stars in the movie, and her performance is both unsettling and hilarious.

Feminist flavor: When Ruth is at the hospital and an annoying nurse tells her “You need to listen to what your baby wants,” you can tell just where Alice’s idea for the movie began.

 

RAW (2016)

Writer and Director: Julia Ducournau 

Description: Justine, a young vegetarian, enters a vet program that includes hazing for new students. After she’s forced to eat a raw rabbit kidney, she starts developing some…interesting cravings.

Feminist flavor: Justine’s “dangerous” exploration of her sexuality in tandem with her new fondness for flesh is an apt metaphor.

 

A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2015)

Writer and Director: Ana Lily Amirpour 

Description: A female vampire haunts an Iranian town, drawing interest from a local boy. Artsy, weird, and lots of fun.

Feminist Flavor: “The Girl” allows herself to be taken home by the misogynistic town asshole, only to reveal her true colors during a kiss.

 

THE BABADOOK (2014)

Writer and Director: Jennifer Kent 

Description: A widow struggles to raise her son in the haze of a depression. An evil presence enters her home through a children’s book, and she’s forced to take action. 

Feminist flavor: This movie skillfully highlights the ambivalence and difficulties of motherhood, especially for a single mom.

 

HUSH (2014)

Writer: Mike Flanagan, Kate Siegel / Director: Mike Flanagan

Description: A deaf writer moves to a secluded cabin in the woods to finish her next book. Of course, she’s rudely interrupted by a murderer on a killing spree.

Feminist Flavor: This movie was co-written by a woman, but Kate Siegal also stars in the film and is so kick-ass that it has to be included. Her steely determination and quick thinking make her one of the best female characters to come out of horror movies in recent years.

Any others to share? Please leave in the comments below!

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