If you love films like American Psycho, The Slumber Party Massacre, Raw, The Babadook, and Goodnight Mommy, you already love women in horror. Even with these gems and many more afloat, there’s undoubtedly so much beneath the surface of women in the horror genre.
In recent years, we’ve been seeing a lot of post-horror or elevated horror. Even if you haven’t heard these terms before, you’re likely familiar with what they refer to. They’re the slow-paced, well-written, stylised and themed horror flicks that A24 has basically coined. Ari Aster is one of the power players of this current landscape, as well as Jordan Peele.
One of the most common occurrences within the post-horror subgenre is the serious gravity of stories that have to do with serious topics. These films surround mental health, motherhood, relationships, social constructs, and societal issues.
These stories tend to feature women in the spotlight in front of the camera which, admittedly, isn’t anything new. The horror genre has been known for its tendency to portray women both favourably and unfavourably throughout the years. The common tropes have been seared into the cultural consciousness: the final girl, the promiscuous girl dies first, etc. And these tropes are still very much around today, but post-horror and its overall influence does see them die down, to a degree.
What we get with newer horror, even outside of the elevated horror sphere, is a more nuanced telling of women’s experiences through the tools of the genre. Films like Midsommar, Mother!, It Follows, and The VVitch are all great examples of this. Even the 2018 retelling of Suspiria holds a candle, with its entirely-female cast. However, one aspect that these films all have in common? Men behind the camera.
This isn’t to say that men can’t tell the stories of women in horror. In fact, it’s a part of the diversity of the work to tell as many kinds of stories as possible. However, it often seems as though the opportunity for more women to enter the space has thus far gone relatively untapped. In conversations around horror, it’s surprisingly difficult to point to female-led projects, even when women are most often leading in front of the camera.
When we look at recent elevated horror and horror in general, the themes that are present don’t simply mimic those of the broader horror landscape, they ground through them to tell deep, informed, explorational stories. If you take a look at The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Raw, Goodnight Mommy, Saint Maud, and even Jennifer’s Body and The Beguiled, you’ll see stories that centre women and uniquely capture their narratives.
Again, this isn’t to say that men have no place directing women in horror. In fact, it must be noted that there’s something that feels absolutely right about the performances in Midsommar, The VVitch, A Ghost Story, and other films like them. However, the performances can’t do all the work of shouldering a narrative. We need women behind the camera as well as in front of the camera to make these stories fully come to life.
If any of the horror films directed by women in the last few years prove anything, it’s that giving women opportunities in every avenue of filmmaking can create a broader and richer viewing experience for all audiences.