Over the last few years a shift in the horror genre has gone largely unnoticed by the greater filmgoing population. It has not, however, flown past our radar. That shift concerns the roles written for, and by, women in horror. Lately we have seen female characters in horror go from screaming cowering conduits for gratuitous nudity to strong leads who fight the evil they face.
Scan the horror horizon and you will see example after example. In a time when women are still being snubbed in awards and passed over for parts and projects, horror seems to be the exception to the rule. Recently the majority of horror flicks have strong female leads or villains. We could profile dozens of them, but you should do your own detective work on this one and dive deep into this rabbit hole. For now, let’s chat about five fantastic examples from the last five years.
Cam is the feature debut for both director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei. The former has made a career working on documentaries, while the latter is a writer who writes about gender and sexuality. All this to say, greenlighting their project and giving them creative control meant allowing to people who do their research and know their stuff to tell this story.
When that happens, we get fuller, nuanced characters. That is certainly the case with Cam. For the majority of the film, the only person on screen is Madeline Brewer and, as such, the focus of the story is on the peril this woman faces and how she reacts to it.
Brewer plays Alice, aka Lola, who works as a camgirl. For those unfamiliar, this is someone who streams videos online for paying customers who can upvote them and give them bonus tips. Camgirls are often used and degraded and pushed to do more and more extreme things to keep viewership and make more money. As such, Alice, who goes by Lola online, finds herself trying to up the ante all the time.
Just when she feels things are going too far, she discovers some doppelganger is posing as Lola and going to even greater extremes. Now her choice and her body freedom are both being taken away, as ‘she’ is being forced to do these things in the eyes of the public, outside of her control. This victim doesn’t just run or scream, she schemes how to stop it and get even. Alice is smart, strong and determined and Brewer plays her fantastically, both as herself and the doppelganger.
Whoa buddy, the Halloween reboot. I’m not going to give a synopsis here, really, because I’m assuming all you horror fans are very familiar with Halloween, Michael Meyers and Ms. Laurie Strode. Halloween, the original, is a fantastic flick that gave us all one of the greatest ‘scream queens’ ever in Jamie Lee Curtis. It also spawned numerous sequels and reboots. These were all, other than Halloween III, squarely focused on Michael. This makes some sense, given he’s an iconic villain and an assumption was that he was the source of everyone’s fascination.
Many of the sequels and reboots were panned by critics and disappointed at the box office. So, expectations were pretty low for this 2018 one, yet another reboot. What set this one apart, however, was that the focus was much more on Strode and not just her, but her daughter and granddaughter. In other words, this one is focused more on the women and survivors than on the killer. And guess what, the women are portrayed as flawed, strong, robust characters that don’t whimper and shy away from the fight.
Instead, they shout ‘bring it on!’. When Karen Strode said “gotcha!,” I got goosebumps. If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean. Halloween wasn’t perfect, but it was yet another modern horror flick where the female characters are far from one-dimensional, but are actual adults who behave like badasses rather than damsels in distress.
You can check out a full review of Halloween 2019 HERE
If you haven’t heard of Hereditary, may I be the first to welcome you back from the International Space Station or the moon or wherever you’ve been. Hereditary was not just a huge cross over hit, it was a damn phenomenon. The movie tells the tale of a crescendo of events in the life of this family. It starts with the death of the matriarch of the family and Annie’s mother.
Following her death, weird shit starts happening and things just seem to get worse and worse. As the family begins to truly wonder what the hell is going on, more tragedy strikes and this time it seems to open Pandora’s box of evils. If grandma’s death was the initial nudge, the later tragedy full on shoves momentum into overdrive. Can the family survive? Can they unravel the cause of all this madness?
The breakouts weren’t the fantastic performances from actors like Gabriel Byrne and Alex Wolff, both of whom were indeed great. No, what stuck with moviegoers were the disturbing and absolutely pitch perfect performances of Milly Shapiro and Toni Collette. They and their performances hold the story together and the attention of the viewer.
While the latter is a well-known star, the former is a young theater actor and unknown. Shapiro rises to the challenge and gives us a harrowing, unique character. I’m not kidding, this character will stick in your mind for days. Collette brings to life a character that is so tense and traumatized by recent events that you can almost smell the stress sweat. Both actors live and breathe in these characters and, again, aren’t just frightened sex pots, but grounded, full characters essential to the tale. It is incredibly difficult to create iconic horror characters who aren’t villains. Both of these women have done this here and in ways that are so rich and genuine that I cannot wait to see the rest of their careers.
A Quiet Place (2018)
Well, one thing is clear, 2018 was a great year for horror! A Quiet Place also came out last year and was a smash hit. A sequel is already in the works and it has pushed forward the career of just about every person involved. In the not too distant future, aliens have arrived on earth and torn shit up. Quickly it is clear they are hellbent on killing all living creatures on earth and that they seem to have no senses other than an acute sense of hearing. The few people who have survived live in constant fear and have to be as quiet as they possibly can. One family seems very capable, given the daughter of the family is deaf and they already know ASL. They have adapted, but will they survive?
While this movie was lauded for its unique style and approach, lead actor Millicent Simmonds had the challenge of carrying the bulk of the picture and did so fantastically. As a character in a horror movie, a deaf female child would historically be either a goner or throw away character. Not here. Not only is Simmonds young and actually deaf in real life, but she also has limited film experience. None of that slows her down. She absolutely nails this role and I cannot imagine the film without her. Emily Blunt is also fantastic, but Simmonds really steals the show. She is the heroine, a final girl and the person on screen for the vast majority of the picture. She doesn’t let her age, physical limitations or gender stand in her way. To her, these are strengths, not weaknesses, and she is shown to be a bona fide hero.
Now this one you may not have heard of. If you haven’t seen this kiwi gem from 2014, do yourself a favor and remedy that now. It’s also the movie our website name is a parody of. Like many New Zealand horror flicks, this one is a balance of comedy and terror. It’s touching, it’s funny and when it needs to be its hair raising.
Housebound tells the story of Kylie, a criminal young lady who is ordered to 8 months of house arrest. The house arrest is ordered to occur at her mother’s house. I kid you not, many moons ago, this happened to me too. When I was a teenager I got in some trouble that led to 6 months of house arrest and, guess what, I had to do it at my mother’s home as a ‘responsible party.’ So, let’s just say, I instantly connected with Kylie and how trapped she felt at the get go. Where our shared experience differs is that soon Kylie and her mother begin to suspect the house may be haunted. There are so many great twists and surprises, that I won’t give anything away. Suffice it to say things are even more complicated than they appear.
This movie is so unique and does such a great job of twisting and turning subgenres, touching on everything from haunted houses to home invasions to paranoid conspiracies. It hits it all, but the load bearing wall of the movie is most certainly the lead, Kylie, played wonderfully by Morgana O’Reilly. This character could easily be a one-dimensional stereotype, a tough bad girl who just wants big hair and big fun. Instead, she plays her as a delinquent, sure, but one that shows tons of bravery, loyalty and nuance. She’s funny, she’s tough and just all around fantastic. Yet again we see a movie with an indispensable female lead and a role that is full and fleshed out. No trembling damsel here.
Whether it’s Revenge, Assassination Nation, Killer Kate!, or It Follows, the horror genre is brimming with strong female leads and we here at Horror Bound could not be happier. Let us know who your favorite recent horror queens are on social media. Hopefully this trend continues and we keep getting boss ladies in horror.