Aside from the final girl trope, do women have a voice in horror films? There's always been a shortage of female filmmakers — not just in horror, but in all genres, which is a shame. According to San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film Celluloid Ceiling Report:
In 2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998.
For decades the #horror genre has long been dominated by male auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Eli Roth and James Wan. However, 2017 has seen a promising rise in female-crafted horror movies.
With the release of XX, a four-part anthology directed by four women and centering around women characters, there seems to be something new coming to horror, and that's firmly down to these women. Check out the trailer below and prepare to be spooked.
Starring Melanie Lynskey and Natalie Brown, Magnet Releasing's XX premiered at January's #Sundance Film Festival and is out now through video on demand. Let's take a look at each of the film's four segments and meet the directors behind this compendium of creepiness.
The Box — Jovanka Vuckovic
The first segment is directed by Canadian Jovanka Vuckovic. While traveling on the train with his mother, a boy peeks inside a man's beautifully wrapped gift box, kicking off a sneaking menace that spreads through the family. It's eerily creepy and will fill you with dread.
This is an ordinary portrayal of family life and how one deals with life situations, only with a dark, dark twist. The film's practical effects add to the fear factor; the children's gaunt appearance will turn your stomach and chill you to your core.
Vuckovic was able to create a unique piece of cinema unlike your typical horror fright fest that relies on the cheep thrills of jump scares and gore. On the surface, everything in The Box seems normal, but that charade hides something dark and mysterious, something unseen and strange that will draw you in.
The Birthday Party — Annie Clark
You might know Annie Clark by her stage name St. Vincent. Here, the musician is directing her first film, a segment of XX that deftly portrays unspoken real-life fears. A woman believes she has planned the best birthday party ever for her young daughter — until she finds her husband dead in his home office.
Again this is a horror film that doesn't involve anything jumpy or bloody, yet it's scary in a sense of how real the situation is. Clark blurs the line between psychological horror and humor, executing it with aplomb. Her artistic eye is subtle, yet oddly alarming.
Don't Fall — Roxanne Benjamin
This is perhaps the most traditional segment of XX, the third section of the film. It's a simple short about four friends on a camping trip in the desert — which turns out to be a deadly camping trip.
Roxanne Benjamin took her inspiration for this film from Kathryn Bigelow's 1987 cult classic Near Dark. (Interestingly, Bigelow is the only woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director in the ceremony's near-90-year history.) Also a producer, Benjamin is one of the beautifully twisted minds behind V/H/S and Southbound. Earlier this year, she told Huffington Post:
"The thing that always feels the weakest in any horror movie is when you get into the explanation of why this is happening, rather than just letting it unfold."
Don't Fall's story unfolds with no explanation as to why the stuff is happening on screen, but that's only a good thing. Sometimes over explaining can ruin the viewer experience, so not having a reason leaves your imagination to run rampant. Don't Fall is entertaining, it's unusual, it's horror.
Her Only Living Son — Karyn Kusama
Director of 2009 Megan Fox comedy-horror Jennifer's Body, Karyn Kusama's XX segment Her Only Living Son is about a reclusive mother-son duo who have little contact with the outside world. On his 18th birthday, it becomes apparent that the son is far from normal — or human? Deeply disturbing stuff.
With Her Only Living Son, Kusama wished to offer audiences a new take on the portrayal of mothers within the horror genre:
"What would our world be without mothers? What would our world be without mother love? I don’t think we’d have a world."
Breaking out of the gate in 2000 with the critically acclaimed Girlfight before tackling the world of suspense thrillers with 2015's The Invitation, Kusama's compelling leap to horror makes her one to watch within the genre.
These female filmmakers give us hope for a new wave of horror in 2017 and beyond. So to address the earlier question — do women have a voice in horror films? — the answer is a resounding yes. They're no longer just going to be seen running, screaming, dying, trying to keep their clothes on, and hopefully surviving to the credits, because women are making these films and making them about so much more than just the #finalgirl.
XX is out now through video on demand. Do you think women now have a voice in horror films? Leave a comment below.