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Time to scream, queens: Seven women-led horror movies to binge this Halloween

One of the prevailing discourses centred around horror films is its blatant perceived misogynistic treatment of women – particularly in the early years of horror.

I'm not going to lie, as someone who consumes horror more than any other genre in film, I can see why people would say it.

The strongest arguments centre around how horror represents women and the possible exploitation of their vulnerability, particularly in slasher movies: the scantily clad women filmed from the male gaze, the titty quota that's through the roof, the graphic violence depicted that's disproportionately skewed toward women, and, of course, tropes that both hypersexualise women whilst damning their sexuality in the same breath.

However, I'd like to argue that horror is one of the ballsiest subversions of the representation of women in all of cinema.

On the surface, horror is one of the very few genres that is dominated by women-centric stories. In fact, more often than not, it's the women in horror that are its driving force.

On a deeper level, horror is a mirror of society and the fears that exist in it at any given point in time. The most effective horror is able to capture the very real fears that people face on a daily and almost purely subtextual level.

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Monsters, ghouls, demons, ghosts, and killers might be the face of the horror, but underneath lays commentary on social and political tensions in society from everything from class disparities to racial tensions to mental health issues.

The most prevailing, however, is exactly the brutality of patriarchy and the treatment of women in society.

Yes, the violence is graphic, the sex is exploitative, and the torture is visceral, but that is exactly the reality many women face on a daily basis.

This is particularly present in the slasher where the villain is very rarely a woman, and the protagonist is very rarely a man.

Instead, the faces of horror's most depraved evils are men and the pain they inflict on women that is supposed to be jarring, unnerving, and provocative.

Meanwhile, the faces of horror's most resilient survivors are women, especially the final girl – a term created by Carol Glover in her seminal horror deep dive, Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (a must-read, by the way).

In her analysis of the representation of women in horror, she highlights horror's creation of the final girl in the slasher film, a term that, in essence, refers to the lone female survivor at the end of the film.

Having overcome every obstacle put in her way and despite the odds being very much against her, the final girl is able to fight her way until the very end where, more often than not, she not only survives the killer but ends up defeating him (at least until the sequel).

So, in honour of contemporary film's greatest final girls in horror, here are seven movies to stream this Halloween that centre around women.

READY OR NOT – DISNEY PLUS (2019)

IMDb synopsis: A bride's wedding night takes a sinister turn when her eccentric new in-laws force her to take part in a terrifying game.

Why you should watch it: This is probably the most entertaining movie on the list and also introduces one of my favourite final girls in the last five or so years in Grace (Samara Weaving). It's also a pretty straight (but perfectly executed) forward post-Scream (1996) slasher-comedy so it is relatively violent but, just like Scream, it never gets disturbing.

CAM – NETFLIX (2018)

IMDb synopsis: Alice, an ambitious camgirl, wakes up one day to discover she's been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself.

Why you should watch it: This one is a little messed up if I'm being honest, but it's one of those gems that if you were looking for a sign to stream it, this is the one. There's a really interesting dichotomy happening between Alice and Lola (both played by Madeline Brewer) which both comments on the representation of sex work in the digital era and the pressure that the omnipresent online male gaze puts on women.

GERALD'S GAME – NETFLIX (2017)

IMDb synopsis: A couple tries to spice up their marriage in a remote lake house. After the husband dies unexpectedly, the wife is left handcuffed to their bed frame and must fight to survive and break free.

Why you should watch it: This is a top 10 of all time for me and, by far, the best Stephen King adaptation since The Shining (1980). It also is almost exclusively shot through Jessie's perspective and delves deep into her psychology – her fears, her trauma, and the relationships she's had with the men in her life. Because the large majority of the film takes place in the bedroom, Gerald's Game has one of the most effective deep dives into womanhood on a personal level that I have personally ever seen.

X – AMAZON PRIME (2022)

IMDb synopsis: In 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, but when their reclusive, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast finds themselves fighting for their lives.

Why you should watch it: If you're looking for elevated horror that is both disturbing and entertaining, then this is the best movie on the list. Though Scream (2022) might be my favourite slasher of the year, X is the most provocative. Its representation of porn and its eerie resemblance to the proto-slashers of the 70s, like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), is incredibly unsettling and Mia Goth gives a career-defining performance as both Maxine and Pearl.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO – SHOWMAX (2021)

IMDb synopsis: An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker.

Why you should watch it: This is the most stylistic film on the list and also features a character study commenting on the dichotomy of societal expectations of women in society. In Soho, this dichotomy slightly moves away from sexuality and focuses more on an analysis of the expectations placed on women in the workplace, and what women need to encompass to succeed in a male-dominated world.

THE WITCH – SHOWMAX (2015)

IMDb synopsis: A family in 1630s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.

Why you should watch it: The second movie on the list featuring my favourite contemporary Scream Queen, Anya Taylor-Joy. This period horror continues the trend of the usage of juxtaposition in elevated horror movies of the 2010s and 2020s. The difference this has as opposed to, let's say Cam, X or Soho, is that the juxtaposition lies more in its broader themes than its character study.

In The Witch, there's a really interesting dichotomy between Christianity and Satanism that unfolds in a way you might not expect and could leave you divisive in where you stand with this representation of religion.

MALIGNANT – SHOWMAX (2021)

IMDb synopsis: Madison is paralysed by shocking visions of grisly murders, and her torment worsens as she discovers that these waking dreams are in fact terrifying realities.

Why you should watch it: Honestly, other than Gerald's Game, if there's any movie I would die on a hill for, it's Malignant. As one of the most divisive genre movies in recent memory, you're either going to hate or love Malignant – but I guarantee that you will never get bored.

Of all the movies on this list, Malignant is the one you need to go into as blindly as possible. It's also a really fun movie to watch with a group of people so gather with the besties, grab a few drinks and strap on for one of the wildest rides in horror you're likely to have ever experienced.

If you're brave enough, play a drinking game where everyone takes a shot every time y'all say 'wtf???'.

Bonus films you should rent (wink, wink): The Final Girls (2015), You're Next, The Babadook, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Slumber Party Massacre (2021), The Evil Dead (2013), The Cabin in the Woods, Happy Death Day and Us.

Happy Halloween!

Artmotion S.Africa

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