"Being a woman is full of horror": directors talk about their profession

LONDON — When Ruth Paxton was 14, her father smuggled her to a cinema in Scotland to see an anniversary reissue of “ The Exorcist the cl...


LONDON — When Ruth Paxton was 14, her father smuggled her to a cinema in Scotland to see an anniversary reissue of “The Exorcistthe classic 1973 movie about a possessed girl.

“He was really excited for us to watch it,” Paxton said recently, pointing out that the movie had already been banned. of home video release in Britain. “But when we came out, I was like, ‘That was rubbish! “”

It probably didn’t have enough blood in it for her liking, she added with a laugh.

Now Paxton, 38, is trying to unsettle the public with his own history of possession. His first feature film,A banquetabout a girl who refuses to eat hits US theaters and on-demand services on Friday. Writing in the New York Times, Lena Wilson praised the film’s “slow-burning magic” and made it a critic’s choice.

‘A Banquet’ is the latest in a series of acclaimed recent horror films from Britain and Ireland made by first-time female directors. It follows the 2021 film by Rose Glass “Sainte Maudand “Romola Garai”Amulet», from 2020, as well as « Prano Bailey-Bond »Censor», the story of a strict head of film classification who finds himself in a bloodbath on the set.

Others are on the way, including “You are not my mother,released on March 25, about a young girl in Ireland whose mother starts acting weird, and Charlotte Colbert.She goesin which a woman travels to Scotland to recover from a double mastectomy and ends up channeling the spirits of local witches.

Alan Jones, co-founder of FrightFest, Britain’s biggest horror film festival, said female directors have been working in the genre since its inception, but over the past five years their numbers in Britain and Ireland have increased. They brought “a feminine perspective to the clichés of yesteryear,” Jones said.

One of the reasons for the boom was that horror was more open to female first-time directors than other genres, he said. “You don’t need stars, or even that much money,” Jones said. “You just need a really good idea.”

Last week, four of these fledgling filmmakers, all in their 30s – Paxton, Bailey-Bond, Dolan and Colbert – came together in a video call to discuss what drew them to the genre. , what they bring to it as women and how horror films can bring about social change.

These are edited excerpts from their conversation.

This isn’t the first wave of female horror directors. Why do you think another is rising now, in Britain and Ireland?

PRANO BAILEY-BOND It’s not just the women who cause a lot of horror here: we have wild rob and Remi Weekes and Marc Jenkins. But conversations around diversity in the industry are now allowing all the women who have wanted to make horror for years and years to finally make movies.

KATE DOLAN All the female directors I looked up to growing up, like Catherine Bigelow and Claire Dennis and Mary Haron, almost all of them have made at least one horror film. It’s not necessarily that women are now drawn to horror; they just have a chance.

In the 1980s, Britain had a list of horror films – the so-called “nasty videos” — which were effectively banned from home viewing, as reported in “Censor.” Some horror fans talk about working their way through this list as a way to get into the genre. What was your course ?

DOLAN When I was growing up, I watched a lot of horrors and I think that was really exciting for me at the time, because it’s a genre where there are female protagonists who survive and win – “the last daughter”. As a teenager, it was really empowering.

BAILEY BOND Likewise, I was totally drawn to the genre, to the extreme things that happened in the movies. I think at first it was partly the physical thrill – knowing that when you’re done watching, you then have to go up to bed and you think something is going to grab your ankles.

But I never thought of being a horror director until someone saw my reel and said I was. I remember picking up that call saying, “Am I?” But if people want to label you, that can sometimes be helpful, because there are a lot of filmmakers, so how do you stand out?

CHARLOTTE-COLBERT I love the great artistic freedom in horror that may not be available in other genres. Obviously, in a drama, you can’t have a worm growing out of someone’s nostril, or anything else that bold or artistic. But horror has a really amazing freedom in terms of visuals and characters, and what’s acceptable and believable.

PAXTON Growing up, I watched a lot of horror, but mostly because they had a lot of soft porn, and I wanted to see the sex!

But I think I’ve always liked looking into the dark corners of things, and that’s partly because of my own experience. The scariest experiences I’ve ever had have been inside my own head.

Even though the boom in Britain is cross-gender, what do you think women, in particular, are horrifying?

PAXTON With “A Banquet” I followed my experiences with eating disorders and then the ripple effect of that on the family around me, and in particular the dynamic with my mother, who wanted me to eat when I didn’t want it.

I really don’t know what I bring except my own interests. I’ve been terribly aware of death since I was a child – I wrote a last will when I was eight – but I don’t know if it has anything to do with my gender.

DOLAN You cannot bring your own life experience to what you create. Being a woman is full of horror, so it makes sense to bring those experiences to horror.

I hope my next project will be about bodily autonomy for women in Ireland, because we had a terrible struggle for reproductive rights here. I want to make films about my experiences and my struggles.

Is horror better than other genres at exploring these issues?

COLBERT Personally, I think it’s an amazing and creative way to approach social issues. And what’s also cool is that teenagers are usually the biggest audience, so it’s a fantastic way to convey feminist images to people who aren’t necessarily interested. It could really have a long-term impact on the next generation.

DOLAN It’s interesting that you say that since there’s a great book called “Men, Women and Chainsaws” by an academic, Carol J. Clover, and she has a section where she talks about slasher movies and how they turn the male audience into the “ultimate girl”, essentially. Thus, the audience must perceive their fear of being chased by the killer, which brings them closer to the female character.

We’re also seeing a wave of globally acclaimed horror movies, including The movies of Jordan Peele the United States; French director Julia Ducournau won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year with “Titanium.” Is there anything that differentiates British and Irish horror?

BAILEY BOND Britain is really good at folk horror – “The Wicker Man”, of course. I don’t necessarily think that’s where we should stay, but there seems to be something in our culture and history that serves this subgenre. And we have a little the impression of belonging a little to this land.

The same goes for the story of the gothic haunted house. We’re very good at it, and if you’re thinking about Britain and its architecture, a spooky big house with a housekeeper really fits.

COLBERT Yes, in a way the landscapes here, particularly in Scotland, the mist, feel so steeped in storytelling and mythology. Even in England, I sometimes have the impression that you can film any landscape and that creatures from the past reappear.

BAILEY BOND It reminds me of the trope in American horror of movies like “Poltergeist” exploring legacies with Native American burial sites. It’s that same relationship with your past and either the fears of this earth or the guilt of this earth, and how the earth holds the memory. With horror, you can tap into it all.

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