“Us” and the Feminist Wave of Horror Movies

A few weeks ago my girlfriend and I went to see Us and as expected, it was amazing. You know it’s amazing, and I’m sure you’ve read or heard that it is, it’s probably not a surprise to you. Now if you think or expect this to be one of these posts where I over-analyze every aspect of the movie, this isn’t it, you can go to twitter for that.Confused Math GIF by CBC

But one thing I noticed that’s really interesting is this new trend in horror movies in which the women are at the forefront. Like I mean, REALLY at the forefront. Now don’t get me wrong, women being the main characters in horror movies is nothing new. From Jamie Lee Curtis to Neve Campbell to Mary Elizabeth Winstead, we’ve all seen them. But instead of seeing this in horror movies:scream GIF

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We’re seeing more of this:

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Like I said before, women have ALWAYS been the main focus of horror movies, but over the past few years, women have been 3-dimensional and actually, having personalities, traits, and motivations to their characters. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. Those Scream Queens I mentioned earlier are great and made big contributions to the Horror genre, but if you asked me to tell you three personality traits of Sidney Prescott (Scream) I wouldn’t even be able to name one.

Don’t get me wrong Scream is a great horror movie. One of the best in my opinion for it’s subversion of common horror tropes and underlying ways it parodies the genre. However, it’s mostly known for it’s unique plot and how Sidney’s involvement in it is part of the overall story. We don’t celebrate Scream for Sidney’s character, but for how it basically tells us how the horror classics such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are pretty much all the same and have nothing new to offer.

The time of the damsel in distress characters in horror movies is just predictable and boring. We all know what’s going to happen, and people have just gotten tired of it.

As usual, the women are getting chased down or attacked by some psychopath or monster, but this time, they’re fighting back, or in some cases, they ARE the villains which showcases a side of them that viewers don’t normally see of women in horror/thrillers.

For example, look at Get out (2017). The main character (Daniel Kaluuya) is a man, but the people pulling the strings and causing his distress are women, to be more specific, his girlfriend and her mother. I have NEVER seen women portrayed as the antagonists in horror movies in such a refreshing and eye-opening way, and honestly they were the best part about the movie.

 

 

The Sunken Place scene is one of the highlights of Get Out and it wouldn’t have been as iconic if it wasn’t for Catherine Keener as the mother.

A Quiet Place was a pretty big hit last year and a part of it was how Emily Blunt handled her character. Her role is undeniably feminist. She is shown as brave, cunning, and fierce as the film shows how she sacrifices her own safety to be the central protector of the family after her husband is killed (spoiler alert). Now what’s interesting about this is the slow progression. In the beginning, she is shown as calm and nurturing but as trouble approaches she goes through this cognitive dissonance in which she realizes that she can’t afford to stay in that stereotypical familial role that society has placed on her anymore and that she must do what needs to be done. It’s not a day and night change but we see certain events unfold which pushes her to evolve.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2019 with Us. Similarly to A Quiet Place, it deconstructs the patriarchy of the American family and demystifies the idea that the man is the overall protector of the family and is solely in charge of keeping everyone safe. Although Winston Duke’s character wasn’t completely useless, I think Jordan did a clever job at showing what it’s like when the patriarch of the family is at a disadvantage, leaving the wife (Lupita Nyong’o) to take charge of protecting everyone. In a lot of ways one of the underlying themes of the film is telling us that women are just as much of a stakeholder in a family as men are, and in several cases even more than men.

Now I’m not saying that men should be reduced to having lifeless one-dimensional roles, but my hope is that women AND men characters will have the same amount of depth and purpose in these stories moving forward. And as much as I love Jordan Peele and John Krasinski (A Quiet Place), we need more women (especially black womenas directors, writers, and producers for these roles. I mean how dope would it be to see Regina Hall or Issa Rae direct or produce a thriller staring a black woman? Krasinski and Peele never directed a movie until A Quiet Place and Get Out so who’s to say that Regina or Issa can’t do the same?

With the Child’s Play reboot and the thriller staring Octavia Spencer (Ma) coming later this year, I’m really curious to see how Andy’s mother (Child’s Play) and Spencer’s character (Ma) will be portrayed. I think the horror genre is moving in a really interesting direction and I’m curious to see how it evolves in the next few years.

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