Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Problem With Female Characters in Horror

I've been noticing something recently. I haven't stopped watching horror movies but I certainly turn them off a lot quicker.

To wit, last night I tried watching First Born a movie that came out in 2007 starring Elizabeth Shue whom I've harbored a deep love for since she was in Adventures In Babysitting. In this film she's a dancer living in New York married to some wealthy awkward British guy. They move into a weird house when she gets pregnant and then strange shit starts happening. But Dancer McDancey is all crazy. She's silly, thoughtless and kind of detestable. I stopped watching it because I didn't want to watch someone I was starting to like less and less solve something I couldn't really care that much about. Also, I think it was probably her fault.

She's not the only one. Sarah Polley in Splice, Emily Blunt in The Wolfman, that chick from Piranah 3D who's name I don't feel like looking up because I hated that movie so much, those chicks in The Walking Dead....
These are characters whom I'm supposed to be identifying with as a woman but mainly they're just whiny, incompetent, bratty and immature. The reason this is bugging me more than if this were a blog about romantic comedies is because horror has some of the best roles for women and they're letting me down. This is a genre that brought us the ladies of The Descent, Rachel from the Ring, Chris from The Exorcist and a bajillion Final Girls. But recently horror films seem to be centering their plots around women who can't figure things out.

It feels as though there has been a definite shift. Perhaps the problem lies in the actresses getting cast, the people writing the scripts, the directors or the companies that make the movies...

Let's do a case study, A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984 vs A Nightmare on Elm Street 2010. Nancy is one of my all-time favourite Final Girls. In 1984 looks and behaves like an intelligent teenager and when people start dying she gets all Inspector Clueso on us and solves that shit by thinking and setting traps. Awesome, right? I remember watching that movie when I was 11 and being so happy watching a character with drive and logic. It made sense to me later that Wes Craven stated he wrote that part as an inspiration to his daughter. In 2010 Nancy is 25 (not really in the film, but she sure as hell looks it) and whines and cries her way through this abomination of a movie. What happened? The filmmakers had a perfect model in Heather Langenkamp's Nancy but noooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Take away the strength and tenacity of Nancy in the first film and replace it with depressed simpering and you've got 2010 Nancy.

I fear the tonal shift in female roles comes from the way we represent ourselves. More often than not it is still socially unacceptable for women to take the lead and demand more from their partners, friends or themselves. The characters I've listed earlier (Sarah from The Descent, Rachel from The Ring and Chris from The Exorcist) are single mothers. There is something indicative of a strong woman being unable to keep a partner which becomes an inherent deficiency in the eyes of society .

Art hold a mirror up to society like nobody's business. I guess I shouldn't complain if the people I can't stand in real life are the people I can't stand in movies.


  1. i wrote about this exact same thing a few weeks ago. well sort of. I took note of a non whiney, non dumbass female lead. it makes teh movie not only more enjoyable, but enjoyable to return to when I wrote the review!

  2. It's a simple but crucial aspect that often gets overlooked. And well... I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore! ... or I'll just check out Monsters.