By Ashley Joyce – Washington, DC
Horror is a genre full of contradictions, especially when it comes to female characters. For every torture-porn flick that uses violence against women as a source of titillation, there’s a female heroine (the so-called “final girl”) who defeats a murderous madman in a slasher film. Fortunately, we’re currently poised for a feminist revolution in horror with high-quality movies featuring badass female protagonists making their mark.
Check out some of the best below:
The Babadook (2014)
No horror movie generated more buzz in 2014 than “The Babadook,” the first feature by Australian director Jennifer Kent. The film follows Amelia (Essie Davis), a widowed mother, and her increasingly troubled child, Sam (Noah Wiseman). Amelia’s husband died in a horrific car accident while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son, and it’s clear that she struggles to balance her love for Sam with her feelings of resentment toward him. The strained mother-son relationship is put to the ultimate test when a monster from a mysterious pop-up book begins to influence Amelia’s actions.
Anchored by a remarkable performance by Essie Davis, “The Babadook” terrifies audiences without relying on jump scares or worn-out horror tropes. Like many movie monsters, the Babadook serves an allegorical function, but the story also offers incisive observations about childhood trauma and the power of motherly love.
It Follows (2015)
In the hands of a less conscientious director, “It Follows” could have been one of the most conservative horror movies of the 21st century. The “it” is a sexually transmitted demon that stalks an infected person until it kills them. In this case, the infected person is Jay (Maika Monroe), a college student who acquires the curse from a summer fling. Horror movies have been punishing female characters for having sex for decades (the slasher films of the 70s and 80s offer numerous examples of this trope), but “It Follows” isn’t a thinly-veiled PSA about the dangers of unprotected sex – the film’s true horror lies in the abrupt end of childhood and the inevitability of death.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
“Ginger Snaps” may be the best (and only) menstruation-themed horror movie since “Carrie.” The titular Ginger (Katherine Isabelle) and her younger sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) are best friends, united by their obsession with death and a healthy disdain for their less morbid classmates. But after Ginger gets her first period and is bitten by a werewolf in the same night, she begins to transform into someone Brigitte no longer recognizes. When Ginger’s mayhem takes a murderous turn, Brigitte must find a way to cure her sister’s lycanthropy, or risk losing her forever. While genuinely scary and, at times, darkly comic, “Ginger Snaps” is also a heartfelt examination of the special bond between sisters, and how it can transcend even the most drastic of transformations.
The Descent (2006)
Claustrophobics beware: “The Descent” chronicles a spelunking excursion gone awry. A tunnel collapse traps five women in an unmapped cave in the mountains of North Carolina, and they’re not alone: flesh-eating mole people are lurking in the depths, eager to devour the group. “The Descent” boasts a nearly all-female cast, and spends the first half of the movie developing their relationships, with special attention paid to the rift between best friends Sarah (Shauna Macdonald) and Juno (Natalie Mendoza). By the time the crawling monsters actually appear on screen, it’s clear they’re not the only threat to the group’s survival, as betrayal and fear begin to fracture the bonds between the women.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
Though it received mixed reviews from critics following its release in 2009, “Jennifer’s Body” is worth revisiting thanks to a mesmerizing, if one-note, performance by Megan Fox and a witty script by Diablo Cody. When a local indie band decides to sacrifice a virgin to Satan in exchange for fame and fortune, they select one of their biggest fans, Jennifer (Megan Fox) to be their victim. Unfortunately for the band, Jennifer’s not a virgin, and the ritual goes awry. Her best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) knows something is different about Jennifer when she returns from the show, and suspects she may have something to do with all of the dead bodies showing up in their small town.
As Jennifer ascends to new heights of popularity and sexual achievement, Needy begins to doubt their friendship can survive, regardless of whether or not Jennifer is eating the boys at school. “Jennifer’s Body” is often as funny as it is scary, echoing “Heathers,” “Mean Girls,” and other cult movies about high school girls and their sometimes-toxic friendships.
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