As of late, horror films have become the go-to genre in regards to social commentary with filmmakers using the genre's frightening and disturbing themes to explore various relevant social issues. Feminism especially has inspired filmmakers stories, thus plenty of 'female empowerment' horror films made their way to our screens. Without further ado, here are eight of them to get you started. Feel free to suggest some of your own in the comments.
Beware, spoilers are ahead.
Jennifer's Body (2009)
My love for this film has recently been revived thanks to its rise to 'cult film' status. With all the charm and frights of a campy horror flick, Jennifer's Body is finally getting some well-deserved attention.
Directed by Karyn Kusama, the film follows the titular Jennifer (played by Megan Fox), who becomes possessed by a demonic after being sacrificed to Satan by a local band. Initially let down by its crappy marketing plan, the film has remerged thanks to recent feminist analysis. Many film critics and fans alike have now acknowledged its empowering themes such as that of regaining ownership/agency of female bodies, vengeance, female sexuality and more.
My full review can be found here
Carrie (1976 / 2013)
Regardless of whether you prefer the original or the remake (I personally like both), 'Carrie' is considered a classic tale of vengeance. I did a whole post on it here.
Although the most iconic scenes from the movie involve the slaughter at the prom, in which Carrie takes revenge on the high school bullies, I think there is still so much to be said about Carrie's character arc.
Instead, the most empowering scene could definitely be the final confrontation between Carrie and her abusive mother, Margaret. The fact that Carrie was able to overcome years of abuse and stand up for herself (not only when her life was in danger but also when she just wanted to do something nice for herself by going to prom) is very empowering. It would've just taken the strength of her powers, but also such tremendous mental and emotional strength as well to stand up to an abuser like Margaret, and I don't think Carrier gets enough credit in that regard.
The Babadook (2015)
Directed by Jennifer Kent, 'The Babadook' is a dark and unnerving look into single mother, Amelia's downward spiral thanks to the invisible monster that stalks her and her son.
Beneath its terrifying surface, the film is an insightful and terrifying analysis of Amelia's anger, frustration and grief with the 'Babadook' representing the monstrous battle between her and crippling mental health. However, it can also be perceived as a look into the struggles of single motherhood as Amelia feels isolated and helpless in her role of caring for her son, Samuel.
Regardless, the film is extremely atmospheric and chilling to say the least with Kent and lead actress, Essie Davis combining their talents to create a truly horrific experience.
Slightly unrelated, but I relate to this far too much.
Level 16 (2018)
From filmmaker, Danishka Esterhazy, 'Level 16' is a dystopian thriller that analyzes a range of topics that are all too familiar to the modern woman (my full review of it can be found here).
The film centres around an isolated 'boarding school' of orphaned girls that are raised under strict principles of the ideal 'clean' girl with the purpose of them becoming perfect daughters for their 'future families'. Disobedience of any kind will not be tolerated.
The highlight of the film is by far its analysis of various women's issues, presenting it in a way that can easily be either related to or understood from an outside perspective. These topics range from a woman's worth being tied to their youth/appearance, female friendship and more, all of which come to together for a truly powerful and intense finale.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Argued as one of the many OG feminist horror films that helped push the sub-genre into the spotlight, Ginger Snaps follows the tale of two sisters down a dark (and hairy) road. Written by Karen Walton, the film follows the relationship between sisters Ginger and Brigette while exploring topics such as women's sexuality, adolescence, friendship. All of which is wrapped up in a terrifying narrative and combined with several good helpings of teenage angst.
Both sisters, but Ginger especially, brought something new to the genre and what was previously defined as the classic 'final girl' of the classic horror films. Ginger's transformation throughout the film has been interpreted in many different ways but a popular belief is that Ginger's transition from hero to villain was more of growth from a young girl to a fearless, independent woman. Regardless, the sisters' relationship is still a captivating watch with each moment gripping as it is meaningful.
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
Another personal favourite, Ana Lily Amirpour's Iranian vampire Western film 'A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night' breathes new life into the popular genre of vampire horror films, especially that of the 'female vampire' and/or 'female characters in vampire films' (I discuss this in this review). Not only that but, it produces a powerful and very frightening female protagonist that is as interesting as she is terrifying.
The film is beautifully shot and composed, along with cinematography that screams 'crime noir'. That combined with our named protagonist's vendetta against predatory or otherwise toxic men, we can easily expect an atmospheric, yet deadly tale of female empowerment.
The Love Witch (2016)
Upon its release in 2017, 'The Love Witch' had quickly become a favoured feminist flick thanks to its insightful commentary on women in relationships and female sexuality, as well as its simply STUNNING costume design, cinematography and production design. (if you want to here me rant about it some more, again, full review here).
The story follows Elaine, a witch and hopeless romantic desperate to find her one true love. Yet, with one love potion after another, she discovers nothing but disappointment on both ends of the relationship, resulting in bloody consequences. The feminist commentary can, at times, be very apparent thanks to the campy feel of the film, but Elaine's outlook on relationships and men, combined with the plot of the narrative allows a deeper look into standards placed on both genders in modern times.
CAM, written by Isa Mazzei, provides not only a wild, psychologically-charged ride through the nightmare of a cam girl but a real and sympathetic depiction of the dangers of internet-based sex work and the damaging stigma surrounding the profession.
The film itself is filled with a tense atmosphere and vivid cinematography, combined with captivating performances that makes the journey of Alice, our main character, a refreshing and exciting watch. Yet, it is the exploration of Alice's identity and profession that makes the beating heart of the film.
In most horror films, sex workers of any kind are normally the first to be slain (usually by the male killer). Yet, CAM not only featured a sex worker as the protagonist but also strayed from so many stereotypes placed on sex workers in general. Instead of degrading the protagonist, Alice and placing ethical blame on her, the film is highly sympathetic and empowering of Alice as she reclaims her identity and body. All the while, the narrative never shames the profession of sex work, nor does it glamourise it, providing a genuine story that will enlighten and terrify.
CLAIRE L. SMITH is an Australian author, poet and filmmaker. Her debut gothic horror novella, HELENA is due for release via CLASH Books in October 2020. You can preorder it HERE.