On a weekend this April, I watched three movies, two horror, one mystery thriller. The two horrors I watched Friday night, KILLING GROUND and DEMON INSIDE (ESPECTRO), both featured sexual assault, raw but off-screen for the first and on-screen for the second. The rape element in KILLING GROUND especially, though off-screen, was particularly brutal–psychologically painful to endure because the movie was human horror rather than supernatural. But that’s not to minimize the rape in DEMON INSIDE, where the entire premise is Paz Vega’s trauma due to the assault and the paranoia that arises from her rapist being released because they don’t believe her.
On Saturday, I decided to take a break from the violence of horror, which is so often sexual or sexualized, to watch suspense thriller WIND RIVER, because it had Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olson. I probably should have known better, because there’s a direct line between human horror and suspense thriller on the genre wheel. But there I was, subjected to yet another brutal rape and murder.
And people, I’m tired. I need to face my fears now and then, deal with it through supernatural lenses, confront some painful realities. Sexual violence plays a part of some of my fiction because of that. So yeah, I’m even a part of this, because like it or not, these fucked-up power dynamics are a part of our world. But God, I’m so tired of it.
Guys, this is why women who enjoy horror sometimes need female revenge fantasies. This is why we need movies like AMERICAN MARY and THE WOMAN. This is why we need TEETH.
I’m not playing the suffering Olympics here. In reality, there’s all sorts of iterations of sexual assault, some which are woefully underrepresented in media. But as far as numbers and in terms of representation in the horror and thriller genres, the sheer amount of sexual and sexualized violence is stunning, and while women have their own way of sharing that part of the horror world–through sexual fantasy, through female-led and/or female-directed horror–and though both the horror and thriller genres have tried to make up for it with the Last Girl and Female Law Enforcement Officer in a Man’s World tropes, the fact is that most horror/thrillers are made by and/or for men.
The industry is catching on that half the viewership is female, and not just because guys bring their girlfriends, and there have been some wonderful movies in the new millennium that represent women as more than bimbos for the slaughter, breasts to slash. But the only LAW & ORDER still running is SVU, and rape is still used as a trial by fire for damaged women and a trigger to action for male heroes, often without consideration for how real and personal this trauma is, and how real the fear is. It’s helplessness. It’s being born with parts that other people think should belong to them (see DEADGIRL, which is NOT a black comedy, no matter what the back of the DVD case says). It’s an understanding that there are those who don’t see you as a person, only as the empty spaces you offer.
I’ve been fortunate all my life not to have suffered this particular violence, but I’m still a product of my culture, because I still have to arrange my life around the fear, consider how my actions would be perceived by a jury of my rapist’s peers.
So for fuck’s sake, sometimes I need movies like TEETH, and if it makes men cross their legs and wince, all the fucking better. Men could stand to be more afraid of women, and not just because they think menstruation is gross. But what about male revenge fantasy, one might say? First of all, there’s plenty of that in the action genre. For another, there’s literally nothing that women do to men in such overwhelming numbers that deserves gendered horror-genre revenge. “Lovesick teen” as a justification for terrorism, my ass. The worst thing a woman did was reject him. The worst thing he did was kill her. Women are getting kidnapped for marriage, trafficked and criminalized for it, burned with acid and raped and shot just because they say no, because someone thinks women don’t own their own bodies.
Men could stand to be a little afraid of women in such a way it doesn’t lead to burning or hanging witches. Maybe one day they will be.
In the meantime, I’ll watch AMERICAN MARY, and I’ll watch TEETH.
(TEETH review to come.)