Quality Scares Digest: 6 Woman-Directed Horror Films You Shouldn’t Miss

I’ve watched some excellent movies so far in 2021. I credit my #LadyHorror resolution! Thanks Lady directors!

I’ve also watched some real disasters (I’m looking at you, SHOOK (2021, dir. Jennifer Harrington).

But I don’t want to focus on the negative!

Unfortunately, I’m just one person. I occasionally have to eat cookies in front of SHARK TANK for six hours instead of writing, which means I don’t always have time to review things. Rather than attempting to wade through the backlog of my viewing experiences, I’m going to focus on recommending horror gems you definitely need to see.

Here we go! In no particular order:

JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)

(C) JENNIFER’S BODY 2009

I have been meaning to watch this movie for a literal decade now, and I finally got around to it. You should, too! Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by the inimitable Diablo Cody, JENNIFER’S BODY is a not-that-scary but super clever and gross send-up of horror tropes. It offers a relatively nuanced perspective on female friendship (Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox are a delightful duo) and the objectification of teen female bodies, plus sexy/hate-able Adam Brody as a boy band hottie. Uncomfortably relatable Minnesota teenage angst, with a nice balance between satisfying-to-watch violence and actual ideas.

Does It Pass The Gender Tests

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Flying Colors!
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass.
  • Willis Test: Fail***
  • Ko Test: Fail.
  • Roxane Gay Test: I think this for the most part passes, though of course with the caveat that everyone is white.
  • Carie-Burns Test: Fail.

Available to watch with a premium Hulu Subscription, or to rent from YouTube/Amazon.

***Almost every movie in this list is going to fail the Willis test; across the board that’s because the movie deals explicitly with gender, which would make flipping the genders really confusing.

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID (2019)

(C) TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID 2019

This Spanish-language fantasy horror, written and directed by Issa Lopez, bears a more-than-passing resemblance to PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro). With a constant barrage of gorgeously broken objects and a violent magic that only young Estrella (Paola Lara) can see, it’s impossible to miss the connection to the del Toro classic, but I maintain this feels like it’s own experience. I was moved, I was scared, and I was deeply impressed with the way Lopez handled a very young cast interacting with gritty, challenging material.

Does It Pass

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
  • Willis Test: Fail
  • Ko Test: NA – This film is set in Mexico so nobody’s white
  • Roxane Gay Test: Pass
  • Carie-Burns Test: Fail

Available on Shudder and to rent on YouTube/Amazon.

PREVENGE (2016)

(c) PREVENGE 2016

What a refreshing take on the revenge thriller! Written and directed by Alice Lowe, who also stars, PREVENGE follows a pregnant woman who is forced by her fetus to murder all the people whom she holds responsible for the death of her late husband. This turns out to be a lot of people. And also raises the question of whether the fetus is really calling the shots. Drily funny and super gory, PREVENGE takes on the idea of “woman as vessel” in a way that starts off super literal and ends up surprisingly nuanced. Plus there’s an appearance by Gemma Whelan, whom I love.

Does It Pass

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
  • Willis Test: Fail
  • Ko Test: Fail
  • Roxane Gay Test: Pass
  • Carie-Burns Test: Pass

Available on Shudder and to rent on YouTube/Amazon.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

(C) PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN 2020

Speaking of clever takes on the revenge thriller, PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, written and directed by Emerald Fennell, has been nominated for a ton of awards, including 4 Golden Globes. I normally wait to watch new movies until they’re a little cheaper to access, but I couldn’t resist the hype, and I was NOT disappointed. If I had to pick a single fave from this list, it might be this film. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN stars Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a traumatized med-school dropout who seeks revenge against all rapists for something that happened to her late best friend Nina. She’s tempted away from her vengeance by a blossoming relationship with seeming Nice Guy Ryan (Bo Burnham, whom I fell in love with). I don’t want to spoil the many delightful and devastating surprises this movie offers, but I will say it’s a master-class in making use of genre tropes to do something totally new, and delivers all the tension of a classic scare with significantly less actual murder.

Does It Pass

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
  • Willis Test: Fail
  • Ko Test: The excellent but under-utilized Laverne Cox is in only 3 or 4 scenes as Cassie’s friend/manager. Therefore, Fail
  • Roxane Gay Test: Pass
  • Carie-Burns Test: Pass

Available to rent on YouTube and Amazon.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (2011)

(C) WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN 2011

There’s some debate about whether this movie qualifies as horror, but I can’t think of anything more horrifying than the powerlessness of knowing your child is a violent psychopath, having absolutely nobody believe you, and then living through the life-destroying aftermath only to still…love…that child? This absolute opus is directed by Lynne Ramsey, and co-written by Ramsey and Rory Stewart Kinnear. Tilda Swinton stars in the can’t-look-but-can’t-look-away role of Kevin’s (Jasper Newell) mother, his victim, and also as a symbol for like…the entirety of America, maybe? I spent most of this movie coiled in anxiety and have spent some portion of every day since thinking about how good it was at making me feel bad.

Does It Pass

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
  • Willis Test: Fail
  • Ko Test: Fail
  • Roxane Gay Test: I think fail. Tilda is incredible but no other female character reaches even a smidge of her depth and she’s pretty surrounded by dudes.
  • Carie-Burns Test: Pass

Available on Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube to rent.

WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR (2021)

(C) WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR 2021

Last but not least is this haunting, anxious, profoundly lonely tale of creepypastas and internet relationships, written and directed by Jane Schoenbrun. I hope Jane will forgive me for including them on this list since technically they are nonbinary, but they use she/they pronouns and I also adored this movie, so. So! WORLD’S FAIR debuted at Sundance this year and was my standout favorite from the festival. The film follows isolated teen Casey (Anna Cobb) as she loses track of the line between fantasy and reality while participating in an online horror RPG. She develops a relationship of sorts with JLB (Michael J. Rogers), an adult man. I found this film thoughtful, moving, and–despite feeling more like a drama–ultimately fairly scary.

Does It Pass

  • Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail. There are only 2 characters and one is a man.
  • Sexy Lamp Test: Pass
  • Willis Test: Pass
  • Ko Test: Fail
  • Roxane Gay Test: Fail. There are zero women in Casey’s world.
  • Carie-Burns Test: Fail because there is only one female character, but worth noting nobody dies (at least, not onscreen)

Unfortunately, this film doesn’t seem to have been picked up for distribution yet. It’s definitely very “indie” feeling but hopefully a few more festival showings will help it find a home. It’s gotten very positive reviews from critics, so I’m hopeful that you will soon be able to stream it somewhere! Or maybe even – gasp – go to a theater?

Published by Brandy N. Carie

Playwright. Director. Producer. Dramaturg. I like coffee and Whisky and dogs and talking in person.

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