10/29/2018 – Coralie Fargeat: Revenge (2017)
Directed by Coralie Fargeat
We’ve finally reached the end of our look at female directors in horror. This year we’ve looked at twelve female horror directors (or in one case, a directing duo) with five more to be covered today and between them and the others spotlighted, there’s plenty of talent and notable films to go around. Yet, there’s also an extreme dearth of films which receive any kind of major release with too many similar stories of poor treatment (especially early on). Even as the releases have become denser, it’s still packed with films that as a horror fan even I don’t recognize, and I’ve found this invaluable for cutting through to the films that have gotten lost in the shuffle. I may not have gotten to a lot of them this year and as I detailed yesterday, I have quite the extensive backlog of films, but they’ve been added to the pile as I went which is as good a first step as any to getting more films by female directors seen. Hopefully, a few of you have done the same.
I also found myself disappointed with the lack of resources online discussing the development of women in horror. Sure, there were a number of invaluable lists of female directed horror films (well before Jason Blum opened his mouth), but as an overall consideration of their development in the industry, they were largely reduced to certain somewhat higher quality listicles.
The past two years have seen a similar pattern in terms of releases to the previous few with a handful of critically acclaimed if mostly obscure titles, and a critically drubbed mainstream release. The former category includes the immigrant horror film Most Beautiful Island written and directed by (as well as starring) Ana Asensio, the Brazilian lesbian werewolf musical Good Manners by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, the Australian-French Berlin Syndrome from Cate Shortland, the Mexican fantasy horror Tigers Are Not Afraid written and directed by Issa López, this year’s The Ranger from Jenn Wexler (as director and co-writer), and the also from this year Irish found footage film The Devil’s Doorway(from Aislinn Clarke (as director and co-writer). The only mainstream title comes from Hood of Horror‘s Stacy Title, The Bye Bye Man.
Coralie Fargeat was born in Paris and attended the French film school Le Fémis. She’d work as an AD on Passion of Mind and The Invisible Circus before helming her first short, the award winning The Telegram in 2003. She’d next direct and star in the comedy sketch series Les Fées Cloches in 2008 which ran for two seasons and twenty-six episodes before directing the science fiction short Reality+ in 2014. Revenge would be her first film, released last year but receiving a more prominent distribution only recently when it was released to Shudder.
In the middle of the desert; a married man with a kid is in the dessert with his mistress Jen when his two buddies show up early for a hunting trip. He lies and says she is just a friend and the four of them party it up. The next day one of his friends creepily hits on her the next day, getting aggressive as he interprets her actions the night before as her being interested. The situation escalates and even though the other friend nearly stops the attempted rape, walking in right before it starts, seeing her expression clearly being one of distress, he walks out and lets his friend rape her, turning up the TV so he can’t hear.
The next day, she’s understandably distraught and tries to leave, demanding the helicopter come back to pick her up, but the guy she was sleeping with refuses, trying to bribe her with a job. SPOILERS1 The rape and revenge film has always been a controversial genre largely for its focus of the former part of the title with the differing opinions of where it is ultimately an empowering one, purely exploitative, or if it just depends on the film. It’s one I’ve come across a number of times here and I don’t feel any closer to an answer.
The rape is shot in a way that doesn’t shy away from what is being shown and yet in no way exploitative. It’s even worse since it puts her in a position where she is being victim blamed for the rape for the way she was dressed, danced, and was with a married man with the concern not being for her, but for the lives of themselves as the rape becomes something they all know about right away. The second half doesn’t come any easier for her as she continues to suffer abuse, dragging her body about, being smashed in the face, nearly being drowned, and much worse. SPOILERS2. Brutal as both sides suffer terrible injury after injury with one scene involving a shard of glass that even I found hard to watch. There’s a wonderful peyote induced nightmare sequence that only adds to the almost supernatural quality of her quest. Robin Coudert’s fantastic electronic score adds so much to the mood and tension, propelling it along.
Revenge is probably the perfect way to wrap up this part of the feature since it shows what the female perspective brings to well-worn genres, especially ones with a history of a questionable treatment of women. It also resists the urge to just simply flip the script in the second half, going for the victim becomes the one in power as it still casts her as one struggling against overwhelming odds SPOILERS3. It’s a great film and visually impressive debut film.
Bonus Episode #41 – A – 2010s: Annabelle: Creation (2017)
Directed by David Sandberg
James Wan’s Conjuring universe has taken on a life of its own at this point with Annabelle becoming its own subseries. The first film really should have killed it considering just how dreadful it was, but it made a ton of money and thus, into the world an origin story was born. Yet, against all odds, like the Ouija movies, this origin story turned out to be far more critically acclaimed than what came before.
We witness the handmaid creation of the Annabelle toy by an in-demand toymaker. He’s the head of a loving family, that is until his young daughter is hit by a car while they are on the side of the road changing a tire. Ever since the release of Meet Joe Black, you would think filmmakers would know that depicting such events doesn’t work so much for horror. Twelve years later, a group of girls heads to a new orphanage (one that is far bigger than anything they’ve been used to) that is the house of the former toymaker. Two of the girls promise to stay together no matter what, one of them crippled by polio and largely ostracized by the rest.
The former toymaker and his wife keep themselves secluded, the wife having been involved in an accident. She becomes the stuff of gossip by the girls as she’s never seen, wears a mask, and lies in bed all day. The toymaker demands that certain areas be never accessed and as this is a horror movie, the one girl unlocks a door and finds the Annabelle doll, but even after relocking it, it still keeps opening. SPOILERS4 It’s hard making a single doll creepy throughout (Child’s Play was a rare success) but the film does its best SPOILERS5
The film keeps the quick cuts to a minimum though it does quite like pop up scares. The film benefits most from having a character who feels vulnerable SPOILERS6. It’s hard to say that Annabelle: Creation breaks any new ground. That characters are one note if they even get one at all, the possession tropes have all been well-worn, and it’s not especially tense. Still, the kind of film that settles comfortably into pleasant viewing, as Sandberg has at least crafted an actual film this time instead of whatever John R. Leonetti made with the last one. Future historians will look at films like this as the type of default film that was stamped out this decade, and in that regard, it is a competently filmed example that at least moves the series closer to the mainline films in terms of both feel and quality.
Bonus Episode #S-2 – A – 2010s: Don’t Watch This (2018)
Directed by John William Ross
Just released today (or yesterday I guess when you all are starting to read this), this series of five shorts on Netflix is a quick bit of horror action.
The first short, “Friendship Bracelet”, is also the longest at a whopping nine minutes. A friendless girl who’s always wearing a surgical mask is seen operating on a doll. Her birthday party is coming up and despite no one seeming likely to attend, two popular girls show up likely out of the one showing pity on her. They do quickly abandon when they realize there is no one else there and how weird and awkward it is and the birthday girl SPOILERS7. It’s not a bad short, it’s just kind of missing something to tie it together or stand out. It did have the only thing in this that made me wince with her stabbing herself with a safety pin, if only because I knew people who did that shit as a kid.
It quickly goes down from there with “CTRL+ALT+DEL”. Featuring some hilariously silly fake hacking that I thought for sure was going to be revealed as a parody, a guy on the dark web preying on young girls starts a virtual reality game. The over the top deep voice and dark crappy CGI in the game were so painfully ’90s as was SPOILERS8 The short never bothers to make it clear exactly what’s going on and it’s not really structured like a proper game. It’s really terrible and may be the dumbest piece of pop culture made with that name.
“Incommodum” features a bunch of random surreal and intentionally disgusting imagery though honestly it all just kind of had little effect on me. It looked like a rejected American Horror Story ad that got padded with some random b-roll. “Keep Out” is the other more lengthy short which features a couple idiots of idiots who go exploring and making random internet videos together trying to spook each other out. This time there’s creatures running about in the background and attacking them. Pass. “Antoni Psycho” features Antoni Porowski from Queer Eye doing an unsubtle version of American Psycho. Maybe this would have appealed more if I actually watched Queer Eye and had any attachment to him, but I don’t and it’s just a shallow parody at best.
I’m not actually sure if John William Ross directed every segment since he is only credited on the first and fourth shorts, but there’s no IMDB entry so I’m assuming so. I guess you can’t say Netflix didn’t warn us about the film with the title, but in case you needed a second warning, here it is. Don’t watch this.
Bonus Episode #42 – F – Various: XX (2017)
Directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama
This year, I’ve frequently criticized the efforts of anthology makers who have when they include a female director, seem to have a one-woman hiring limit with even The ABCs of Death being ridiculously male skewing. It’s only natural therefore that a film would try to correct that balance and feature all female directors. Four are credited, through a fourth is in charge of the framing narratives.
Jovanka Vuckovic is one of the few female directors I had looked at on this feature before this year started. In fact, her short The Captured Bird was what originally caused me to take notice of how little attention I had paid to female directors thus far. She got her start in visual effects, winning a Gemini for her work on Must Be Santa. She would then go on to work as the editor of Rue Morgue Magazine and write the book Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead. After breaking out with the aforementioned critically acclaimed short, she’d make two more in Self Portrait (also from 2012) and The Guest (from 2013). Her first feature length film Riot Girls has wrapped production, but her contribution here is her longest to date.
Annie Clark is better known as musician St. Vincent and I won’t even bother getting into her musical career (and not just because someone has already done it for me). This is her debut as a director. Roxanne Benjamin already has experience with anthologies having directed segments for V/H/S/2 and Southbound. There’s not much information about her online but her first film Body at Brighton Rock has been sold and she is set to helm the remake of the classic Night of the Comet. The final segment is directed by Karyn Kusama who was already one of the directors I covered previously.
The stop motion animated framing devices are directed by Sofia Carrillo who’s clearly been watching a lot of Brothers Quay. Carrilo is a graduate of Guadalajara U who has made a career making stop motion shorts. Starting with 2005’s Vertigo, she followed it up with Out of Control, Prita Noire, Adaptación, La Casa Triste, El corazón del sastre, and last year’s Cerulia. I’m not sure exactly what she was going for here with here framing stuff, but it makes for a nice little palate cleanser between the various shorts.
First up is Vuckovic’s “The Box” based on a Jack Ketchum story. A family is riding on the subway next to a man with a mysterious package. The boy presses to see what is inside it, but when the man shows him he goes silent and refuses to say what was in it afterwards or that there was anything in it. He stops eating, saying that he’s simply not hungry. SPOILERS9
Clark’s “The Birthday Party” stars Melanie Lynskey as a mother trying to hold a birthday party for her daughter. She finds her husband’s dead body in his office panics and tries to hide his body, dealing with constant interruptions in the form of her daughter, the nanny played by A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night‘s Sheila Vand, and others. It’s mostly a “comic” installment that doesn’t really belong here and isn’t very good. Benjamins “Don’t Fall” features a group of hikers who discover a painting of a cliff wall possibly in blood. While wandering off at night a spirit attacks and takes overs one of the women who then menaces the group. It’s a pretty insubstantial segment but one that feels like horror and is competently made.
Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” focuses on the mother (there has to be more varied female perspectives than three mothers) of a teenage boy whose father is a Hollywood actor. She’s quiet and keeps to herself, also keeping the boy away from his father who she claims doesn’t deserve him. There’s an incident at the school where the boy (white) rips off a black girls fingernails and despite the fact that she’s the likely valedictorian and he’s surrounded by rumors of various things that he forces kids to do to join the popular crowd, the principal tells the other mother to maybe take her daughter away from the school for a spell and then apologizes for the woman’s outburst. SPOILERS10 The final story is also the most complete feeling with Christina Kirk (A to Z, Powerless) at the center of it. She gives a surprisingly strong performance, SPOILERS11
As a whole, XX feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to show off the best of female directed horror. Kusama clearly outshone the rest and the project could have used a couple more talents of her caliber (it was originally supposed to include Mary Harron and Jennifer Lynch) on such an important project and Clark’s presence feels like a pure gimmick. Outside of the one segment though, it’s not a bad film, just one that doesn’t live up to the promise of its premise or do anything to justify going out of your way to see.
Bonus Episode #43 – A – 1950s: Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Directed by Motoyoshi Oda
Our second Godzilla film of month is also a direct sequel to the first Godzilla film from 1954 and one of the two made in the 1950s. It consequently holds an important place in history for that, but would it be like the oft-forgotten and lesser Son of Kong or a film unfairly lost in the shadow of its fantastic predecessor?
Two planes are monitoring a large school of bonito and guiding a fishing boat to it. One of the planes malfunctions and is forced to land near an uninhabited island. It is on the island that Godzilla makes his first appearance something like nine minutes in fighting Anguirus, a giant ankylosaurus. It’s an important milestone for the series as the first film would only feature Godzilla, the rest of the series would largely consist of multiple monsters. The first film however slow played his appearance for far more for suspense which would become another recurring trope in the series. This Godzilla however is a distinct one from the first as it is made clear that the original Godzilla is dead and gone. American distributors even recut and renamed the film Gigantis the Fire Monster to emphasize the fact that it was a distinct monster.
Takashi Shimura returns as Dr. Kyohei Yamane and he lends the role such a level of world weariness. Godzilla starts heading for Japan and no one has any ideas how to stop him. It’s at this point that the film actually mirrors the first as a serious drama with a depressing inevitability. The one man who could stop Godzilla is dead. Not only did nuclear testing create a giant radioactive monster, it created at least two more who are seemingly impossible to stop. People wait for news of when he is going to come, some in fear, some laughing it off with a hint of dark humor. It’s a genuinely great opening to the film. There’s also a lot of monster fighting in the first half that frequently looks like two speeded up wrestles duking it out.
Occasionally it will cut to a shot that emphasizes what I mean as the characters seem to all of a sudden gain weight and heft (Godzilla seems so thin this time), returning to being the awesome force of power that Godzilla was in the first and not two people having a slap fight. They seem largely focused on each other and there’s tons of destruction in Osaka as it is destroyed in the crossfire. SPOILERS12
I’m going to be obviously predisposed to enjoy my time with any film featuring Godzilla or giant monsters of any sort, so I still had a good time, but it was a disappointing experience. I wasn’t expecting much of the film and yet it got my hopes up early. It still has the look, feel, and tone of the first, but there’s an essential element missing with the silly monster fights and disappointing second half not helping.
Next up: We take a look at both our final nation and our final official theme in Vietnam with Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait.