FRIGHTFEST 2014: THE YEAR OF THE WOMAN



Something totally awesome occurred at this year’s Film4 FrightFest, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. After all, the festival programme featured a short piece by Total Film’s Rosie Fletcher, an article that discussed a particularly strong showing by female directors at the festival. 


The movie industry suffers, like any industry for that matter, because there are too many dudes drowning out female voices. It is what it is: sexist bullshit. It's okay to write think pieces raising awareness about gender disparity and imbalance in life and work. The true mission - to invoke the spirit of Marx - is to change it. 


I'm waiting for the day when there is a super cool female film-maker , let's say the equivalent to Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, who will yell a "Girls to the front!" style battle cry and make some gnarly horror flicks that are successful as what the blokes do. It needs to happen. I believe it will happen. 

Fletcher, in her article, busted a major myth about women not liking the horror genre. Actually, they do, Fletcher pointed out. So that's sexist assumption number one dealt with. Of course, there's loads more. But she continued further on in the piece: ‘Horror is no longer a genre that belongs to one gender or the other.’ 

Amen to that!

However, a promo piece bigging up the year’s roster of titles isn’t the same as experiencing it first-hand. Only after the fact, can you agree. (By the way, I totally did.) And you know what? I really hope it isn’t a crummy one-off ... the kind of thing that comes with a sigh and wistful nostalgia. 'Remember that year at FrightFest when? ...' 

Festival programmes are dictated not only by selections based on certain criteria (including: will the distributor allow their film to screen?), but what is being made in that particular year. It's not - wait for the cliche - an exact science.


Are we on the crest of a new wave of female horror directors set to take the genre by storm? That would be very effing cool, right? I want female directors and their movies at FrightFest to be as regular as a London bus. To the point where we no longer have to say ' a new horror film by a female director'. It'll just be the latest film from Jennifer Kent or the Soskas or whomever. Alas, that is for the hopeful future. At this point in time, heaven knows the horror genre needs female and feminist voices. Just as a field full of crops needs the rain and sunlight to grow. Enriching the genre we all love and levelling the playing field is imperative. 



Twenty percent of the short films screened in the shorts programme, according to the folk at FrightFest, who tweeted me the figure, were made by women. That has got to be a record, right? I watched She and Call Girl. Both were killer. 

Anyways, my favourite movies this year all featured absolutely incredible performances from female actors. Even if three of the films were directed by men, it was very evident they're well clued up to modern sensibilities and that, get this, female characters in horror can be as complex and strange as male figures! Amazing, right? And not just that, dear reader. They weren't (typically) showy ciphers for male anxieties and hurt! 

Films with strong female roles such as Starry Eyes
Alleulia and Faults all rocked! And Essie Davis, in The Babadook, broke my bloody heart. The film, too, was a debut feature by Jennifer Kent. The roles mentioned portrayed women with a range and complexity rarely afforded female actors. And nobody was terrorised by a hulking bloke with a chainsaw. Amazing.



Elsewhere, Caitlin Stasey and Sianoa Smit-McPhee were brilliant together in All Cheerleaders Die, a movie that playfully deconstructs female figures in horror and American culture. Okay, it's not a great film, but it was enjoyable enough. Also, they were just downright sweet as a teen witch and her living dead girlfriend battling against a monstrous male high school jock. Nacho Vigalondo's Open Windows was entirely about the creepiness of the male gaze and online fanboy drooling. An idea heightened by the casting of former adult movie performer, Sasha Grey. 

Although I’m still confused by Julia’s message and sexual politics (and I saw it three times!), Ashley C. Williams was tremendous in Matthew A. Brown’s debut feature. I wasn’t a fan of Jessica Cameron’s Truth or Dare but, in hindsight, I appreciated her approach/stance to insane levels of screen violence and grotesque imagery. A place so often where only boys are allowed to tread. Heck, even Eli Roth centred The Green Inferno around a strong female character. Lorenza Izzo is excellent as Justine, an activist up cannibal creek without a paddle. (Said paddle would be fashioned from human femurs, probably.)

The schedule wasn’t all inspiring. There was still the tired trope and retrograde nonsense to wade through. A film like Xmoor is a perfect example of the ‘girl in her pants running in the woods’ bilge that I just can’t stand. It actually features scantily clad women running in the woods. (I wasn’t making that up for effect.) 

The development in 2014 marks a nice contrast (or redemption) to a couple of years ago, when the buzz word at the festival was ‘rape-y’. 



As mentioned briefly up top, I hope one day I won't need to headline this article 'Year of the Woman'. It'll just be FrightFest. As Rosie Fletcher stated, the genre shouldn't be the exclusive domain of one gender. It should be equal horrors for equal people.

I'm cautiously optimistic for the future. Let's see how things pan out...



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