Category ArchiveFilms Written by Women

Women-Directed and Women-Centric Feature Films at 2018 Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF)

Now in its twentieth year, the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF) is “committed to the celebration of alternative vision and cultivation of independent, provocative and experimental filmmaking.” Transpiring in Harvard Square with screenings held at the Brattle Theatre and the Harvard Film Archive, “devotees will spend five days in synaptic snap-crackle-and-pop ecstasy, worshiping at the altar of fantastically strange and unusual moving pictures from around the world…”
BUFF is dedicated to diversity with an impressive array of women-directed and women-led feature films, as well as short films. Directors Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid) and Jenn Wexler (The Ranger) will be in attendance at the screenings of their films.
BUFF will run from March 21st-March 25th. Below are the women-directed and women-centric narrative and documentary films featured at the festival.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21st | 7:00 PM

My Name Is Myeisha
2018 | USA | 85 minutes
Director: Gus Krieger
Screenwriter: Rickerby Hinds & Gus Krieger
Cast: Rhaechyl Walker, John Merchant, Dominique Toney, Dee Dee Stephens, Yvette Cason, Gregg Daniel
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“On the evening of December 28th, 1998, Myeisha Jackson’s night ends with her asleep in her car, her cousins outside, and police on the way. In the fleeting moments before the unthinkable occurs, she awakes with a start inside her inner dreamscape and contemplates her life–what it was and what it was going to be. A metaphysical trip into Myeisha’s mind reveals a life brimming with promise on the cusp of adulthood–her secrets, goals, flaws, strengths, loves, and talents–and is fueled and expressed by her love of hip hop, dance, and spoken word as she comes to terms with what’s happened to her.”

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 21st | 9:30 PM

Liquid Sky
1982 | USA | 112 minutes
Director: Slava Tsukerman
Screenwriter: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle, and Nina V. Kerova
Cast: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“Heroin-seeking invisible aliens land on top of a NYC apartment inhabited by a drug dealer and her androgynous, bisexual, nymphomaniac, fashion model lover: Margaret (played by co-writer Anne Carlisle). The aliens quickly get hip to a better drug–orgasmic pheromones–and start vaporizing her casual sex partners. Things get weirder as Margaret’s arch nemesis Jimmy (also played by Carlisle), a lonely, horny neighbor across the street, and a German scientist get involved in the proceedings.”

THURSDAY, MARCH 22nd | 7:45 PM

Pin Cushion
2017 | UK | 82 minutes
Director: Deborah Haywood
Screenwriter: Deborah Haywood
Cast: Lily Newmark, Joanna Scanlan, Loris Scarpa
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“New to town, the inseparable dafty duo Lyn and her daughter Iona are excited to have a fresh start. Determined to establish herself successfully after a rocky start, Iona drifts away from her bestie/mum and becomes BFFs with the school’s equivalent of the “Heathers.” Forlorn, Lyn attempts to make friends of her own, but after a lifetime of being othered, she still struggles with the same vicious trials and tribulations of being different that her daughter now faces.”

THURSDAY, MARCH 22nd | 9:45 PM

The Theta Girl
2017 | USA | 98 minutes
Director: Christopher Bickel
Screenwriter: David Axe
Cast: Victoria Elizabeth Donofrio, Shane Silman, Darelle D. Dove
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“Gayce, a take-no-shit young woman, deals a hallucinogenic drug called “theta,” facilitating an audience for her friends’ all-girl rock band. When Gayce’s friends are brutally murdered, she must solve the mystery behind the murders and protect herself from the killer. She discovers the connections between theta and the murders – and learns a terrifying truth. That the world — indeed her whole reality — is not as it seems.”

FRIDAY, MARCH 23rd | 7:15 PM

The Queen of Hollywood Boulevard
2018 | USA | 92 minutes
Director: Orson Oblowitz
Screenwriter: Orson Oblowitz
Cast: Rosemary Hochschild, Michael Parks, Ana Mulvoy Ten, Roger Guenveur Smith
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“On her 60th birthday, the proud owner of a Los Angeles strip club finds herself in hot water over a twenty-five year old debt to the mob, leading her on a downward spiral of violence and revenge through the underbelly of Los Angeles.”

FRIDAY, MARCH 23rd | 9:45 PM

Let the Corpses Tan
2017 | Belgium/France | 92 minutes
Director: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Screenwriter: Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani
Cast: Elina Lowensohn, Stephane Ferrara, Bernie Bonvoison, Marc Barbe
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“After stealing a cache of gold, Rhino and his gang discover a near-abandoned Mediterranean hamlet hideout, occupied by an inspiration-seeking woman. Their bucolic surroundings become a horrific battlefield when uninvited guests arrive on the scene to foil everyone’s plans.”

SATURDAY, MARCH 24th | 2:15 PM

Spoor
2017 | Poland | 128 minutes
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Screenwriter: Olga Tokarczuk and Agnieszka Holland
Cast: Agnieszka Mandat-Grabka, Wiktor Zborowski, Jakub Gierszal, Patrycja Volny
Harvard Film Archive
WATCH TRAILER
“Janina Duszejko, an elderly woman, lives alone in the Klodzko Valley where a series of mysterious crimes are committed. Duszejko is convinced that she knows who or what the murderer is, but nobody believes her.”

MARCH 24th | 7:00 PM

The Ranger
2018 | USA | 80 minutes
Director: Jenn Wexler
Screenwriter: Jenn Wexler and Giaco Furino
Cast: Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, Larry Fessenden, Amanda Grace Benitez
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“When Chelsea and her friends get in trouble with the cops, they flee the city and go on the run. Fueled by a hallucinogenic drug called Echo, they hope to lay low—and get high—in an old family hideout in the woods. But Chelsea’s got reservations about going back to nature and secrets she’s not sharing with her friends. When a shot rings out, her past comes crashing back, and the punks find themselves pitted against the local authority— an unhinged park ranger with an axe to grind.”

MARCH 24th | 9:30 PM

Revenge
2017 | France | 108 minutes
Director: Coralie Fargeat
Screenwriter: Coralie Fargeat
Cast: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“What starts as a weekend getaway between a married man and his mistress quickly devolves into a deadly game of cat and mouse when his hunting buddies arrive. Director Fargeat revamps and recalibrates the rape-revenge trope from a female perspective, creating a violent, visceral monomyth about the rebirth and survival of a woman wronged seeking to even the score.”

SUNDAY, MARCH 25th | 12:00 PM

Something Wicked This Way Comes
Director: Jessica Barnthouse and Stacy Buchanan
Cast: Kip Weeks, Skip Shea, Izzy Lee
Brattle Theatre
“Something Wicked This Way Comes is a full-feature exploration into the popular horror culture of New England. Through discussions with genre luminaries, horror fans, and natives, the film discovers popular conventions within the genre and identifies how they’re driven by the history, eerie settings, and social issues of the area. And through the stories of actors and local filmmakers, it aims to discover if the area’s passion is strong enough to help grow an independent film industry.”

MARCH 25th | 6:15 PM

Tigers Are Not Afraid
2017 | Mexico | 86 minutes
Director: Issa López
Screenwriter: Issa López
Cast: Paola Lara, Hanssel Casillas, Rodrigo Cortes
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“A dark fairy tale about a gang of five children trying to survive the horrific violence of the cartels and the ghosts created every day by the drug war.”

MARCH 25th | 8:45 PM

Good Manners
2017 | Brazil/France | 135 minutes
Director: Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra
Screenwriter: Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra
Cast: Isabél Zuaa, Marjorie Estiano, Miguel Lobo
Brattle Theatre
WATCH TRAILER
“Clara, a lonely nurse from the outskirts of São Paulo, is hired by mysterious and wealthy Ana as the nanny for her unborn child. The two women develop a strong bond, but a fateful night changes their plans.”

To purchase tickets and for more information, please visit Boston Underground Film Festival’s website. All film and festival descriptions are courtesy of Boston Underground Film Festival.

‘Hush’: A Resourceful Heroine with Disabilities for the Horror Genre

This guest post written by Cassandra A. Clarke appears as part of our theme week on Women in Horror. | Spoilers ahead (in the last paragraph).

Horror films thrive on powerlessness, on weaving tales that create vicarious feelings of hope and dread. Many horror movies follow a type of formula: restrict a character’s capability over time as external risks and dangers increase. Films that stick too closely to this pattern become formulaic. Audiences know what to expect, which is usually counterintuitive to manifesting fear, as the very idea that we do not know what is coming or why or how to stop it typically provokes fear. Insert obstacle here: friends travel to rural area and nearby families are out of town sounds like The Strangers or the home invasion sub-genre. Insert physical limitation: protagonist broke their collar-bone and can’t protect themselves which is a common mid-way tactic of horror to increase the plot’s driving sense of inescapability, like in Halloween or the teen slasher sub-genre.
What’s interesting about this formula, however, is its side effect when the same film stars a woman protagonist. Introducing insurmountable obstacles comes at the cost of disempowering its woman lead literally. While horror films in the past five years have started to come to terms with this consequence and spin survivor tales with resourceful, complex female protagonists (The Babadook, It Follows, Raw) it still begs the question: Why are women always the ones having to fight for their safety? Is a survivor’s tale that different than a chase story?
What’s brilliant about Hush, written by Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegel (who stars as the lead), is it pushes the envelope of the survivor’s tale further through its main character, Madison “Maddie” Young: a woman who is deaf, mute, and lives alone in a rural area. In addition to featuring a female protagonist with disabilities, Hush crafts a home-invasion story that isn’t about her “problems” or obstacles or the attacker at all, but rather it focuses on the tactful solutions she chooses along the way. The film challenges the horror genre to be more inventive with escape. Flanagan initially wanted to make a film with the challenge of no dialogue. He and Siegel thought having a deaf and mute protagonist would be “a real benefit to character development.” If this trend of female characters leading their way out of danger is growing, why not see these women as fuller characters who are masters of their own experiences and use their brains as much as brawn to escape?

Flanagan and Siegel use Hush’s opening moments and other scenes of heightened tension to play with sound by turning off the score and diegetic sound and using sound design, such as “audio from ultrasounds,” at certain points for extended time periods in order to acclimate the hearing viewer into Maddie’s world. The film also shows how she adapted to becoming deaf and mute as a child and how she shaped her life as a successful mystery writer. We see a burned dinner that culminates in her strobe-flashing smoke detector going off, Maddie text on her synced Apple devices with her sister who playfully rebukes her for being single, and a conversation with her neighbor Sarah who is learning to sign; we see enough of Maddie’s life to know that she is content and a master of her surroundings. Of course this peaceful life is challenged as Sarah is stabbed violently outside of Maddie’s house while Maddie unknowingly paces around her kitchen, trying to finish a new story she’s writing.
The film cleverly depicts the killer as a faceless man, an interchangeable slasher. He has no name nor back-story. Through this approach, we care less about him as the film cares less about him, opening up room instead to focus on Maddie and her choices. After not seeing Maddie turn around from Sarah’s screams, the man realizes she is deaf and appears aroused by the idea of killing her. Flanagan and Siegel approach his stalking of Maddie in a way that is new and also true to her experiences. Since Maddie cannot hear him, the killer has to find new ways to be known, so he steals Sarah’s phone and sends photos of Maddie to her. As soon as she realizes she’s being watched, Maddie attempts to bargain with the stalker-killer by writing a message backwards in lipstick on the locked glass door that he’s standing in front of, saying that she would never tell anyone that he was here. Her delivery is tongue in cheek. There’s even a flash of what could be called a smirk on Maddie’s lips. The man finds no humor in this; however, the audience can appreciate this moment as this odd display further develops Maddie as a character who even in grim circumstances finds a way to be resilient and playful.
After Sarah’s death, the plot quickly revs up to focus on Maddie’s escape. Hush does not hold back on the gore to accomplish this cat-and-mouse reversal. A crossbow, knives, shattered glass, and a cork-screw are some of the tools used to torture the man and Maddie. Both are injured and both attack, causing the film to feel less like cat and mouse and more like cat and cat, which helps to counteract the fact that it is still, at its core, a film about a woman being hunted. Setting the film in Maddie’s house creates a sense of claustrophobia that mimics not only Maddie’s initial fear but also the growing frustration and rage of her failing assailant.

To its credit, Hush brings Maddie’s career into the story, which she utilizes as a unique resource to help her survive. As a writer, she can look ahead of the story, see the possible outcomes of actions, and weigh the consequences. This decision to make her writing a part of her method to save herself does wonders for the film as it prevents it from relying too heavily on Maddie’s disabilities as a plot device and gives her more things to do, besides run or fight. In between moments of chase and bloody fighting, viewers follow along as Maddie (and the film) literally retreats into her head in imagined scenes, watching her play out possible choices of escape: Should she climb out the window? Does she hide in the bathtub? We see the failures of these fictional choices that lead Maddie to move in another direction. Horror fans can delight in these scenes as the writing becomes a meta-commentary on the formula of home invasion stories — we know this situation well and we know how we would act, and so, Hush invites us to play with choice, and to watch Maddie do the same. She is like us; she knows this story well and so she is desperate to find a better way out, a smarter way out. We’re engaged because we too want Maddie’s story to be different.
While I won’t say Hush soars in its depiction of Maddie as a deaf and mute woman, I think it’s a worthwhile progression to have a disabled character as a fully developed protagonist. Actress-co-writer Siegel is hearing and speaking in real life and I can see some viewers being disheartened that they didn’t cast someone who is deaf or mute. Maddie’s signing doesn’t appear natural or nuanced (using slang gestures, for instance). She might have been more sensitive to seeing motion if this was really happening to her. That being said, I think its depiction of Maddie as a full, engaging character who fends for herself and thrives alone is an asset to adding more characters with disabilities in films, especially horror, as not victims but stars.
I would even go as far to say that the ending suggests this even more. Much like Maddie does in previous scenes, after the final fight, she sits on her porch, closes her eyes, and smiles. Her demeanor is shockingly similar to how she was in imagined moments earlier, not necessarily indicative of someone who just survived a harrowing ordeal. What this suggests to me is that there is a possibility that the ending didn’t happen, that actually, the plot we watched was a story but it wasn’t true in the film’s narrative. Earlier in the film, before Sarah is killed, we see Maddie struggling to write the end to a new thriller. She rewrites the ending multiple times and visualizes how it could go, and is dissatisfied. Sarah’s death ultimately interrupts her and one can imagine that her death, and everything that follows, is of Maddie’s creation. What’s wonderful about this interpretation of the film is that it doesn’t just become a survivor’s tale, it becomes Maddie’s tale and invention and she exists as both the killer and the chased. She is given a duality that has yet to grace horror films that seem to position women as either the kill-or-be-killed model. Hush thrives in knowing what it is and what it is not; it is a tale of the formulas we play with, and it is asking us to play more, to think more.

See also at Bitch Flicks:
How Home Invasion Films Reinforce Gender Stereotypes and Portray Domestic Violence
The Strangers: The Horror of Home Invasion and the Power of the Final Girl

Cassandra A. Clarke is a writer, martial artist, and non-profit professional lady. Her work’s been previously published in Electric Literature, Word Riot, Entropy, other places that love a taste of the weird. In her spare time, she runs the literary magazine Spectator & Spooks. Follow her misadventures @cass__clarke and @spec_ta_tor_mag.

Suturing Selfhood: ‘American Mary’ and the Unconventional Feminine Repossession of Self

Written by Eva Phillips, this article is part of our theme week on Women in Horror.
[Trigger warning: discussion of rape]

Suturing, as an act, sanguinely carves its way throughout Jen and Sylvia Soska’s 2012 body-modification-centric horror film American Mary. Before we ever see a face or hear a word of dialogue, we watch sinewy, achromatic flesh being sliced open, spread apart, and methodically stitched with black thread by blacked gloved fingers. We watch this, stunned by the juxtaposition between the very focused, dotingly nimble work of the gloved fingers and the grotesquely wrinkled and malleable flesh. We watch this also jarred by the ethereally doleful rendition of “Ave Maria” — importantly and perspicaciously, a hymn that beseeches a female savior to ward off earthly demons and evils — that sonically sutures into the slicing and massaging of the flesh. Before we ever see a face or hear a word, we are informed that this suturing is an act of salvation, not something to be reduced to a simple barbarism. As it is portrayed in the first few moments of the film, suturing is a complex extension of the two selves involved in the act.
These first scenes of suturing — which, as we are shown in an almost whimsical reveal, involve dead turkey flesh rather than human flesh — introduce us to the proclivities of the film’s protagonist, Mary (an unequivocally cool as hell Katharine Isabelle), a profoundly bright and profoundly broke medical student in her final stages of schooling before becoming a surgeon. Before understanding Mary as an individual, we are introduced to the presences in Mary’s life which vex and threaten her in strikingly insidious ways. Specifically, her sniveling, vitriolically brooding professor, Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), is presented moments after we watch Mary carefully and gleefully “operate” on her turkey patient as a direct contrast to the joy she derives from her chosen field. During a slideshow presentation in class, in which Mary’s phone is bombarded with messages and calls from debt collectors for defaulting on her loans, Dr. Grant lashes out at Mary in the middle of class, barking that having her phone out is “fucking rude” and later admonishing her to “stop fucking up.” This violence through language establishes a paradigm that persists throughout the film in which female expression, female control over their anatomy/body and others’ is aggressively and oppressively impugned upon and violated by male domination. Mary’s passion and talent — and thus selfhood — exists imperiled and impeached by the overtures of men.

To juxtapose this, the Soska Sisters brilliantly introduce, through their own masterful process of directorial and narrative suturing, the world of underground body modification and Mary’s unexpectedly intimate and empowering relationship with it. Body modification, which has longstanding cultural values and implications, has emerged as a prominent subculture in which individuals seek to perfect and alter their form to their vision using techniques such as implants, scarification, surgical reconfiguration of particular body parts, and more. The culture is known for a wide array of widely sought after artists — like this guy — and informs many films and television shows, particularly those examining transcendentalism in scientific-modification communities — think Orphan Black — and the multidimensionality of the culture has permeated the filmic consciousness in significant ways.
In American Mary, Mary is thrust into the belly of the beast rather unceremoniously and under non-consensual pretexts: in her interview at a beyond-grimy strip club to secure a job to make more fast cash, Mary is implored by her potential future employer to stitch together an identity-less man who has been brutalized and ripped stem-to-stern by the club’s bouncer. Mary sutures the man’s wound in exchange for five thousand dollars cash, violently vomiting afterword, and in turn imbricates herself into a world which will challenge her to re-conceptualize her notions of autonomy and self-governed craft.
What is significant about Mary’s consequential immersion into the world of body modification is that it is engaged by (very) willing, consenting participants who are firstly and predominantly women. As pertinacious as they are distinct in their appearance, the women who help to “launch” Mary’s body-mod specific surgical career — Beatress (Tristan Risk) and Ruby Realgirl (Paula Lindberg), who seek to surgically modify their appearances to resemble Betty Boop and a human doll — value body mod and surgical transformation as a distinct form of sovereign self-possession that reclaims bodies otherwise controlled or possessed by external forces. Grandiosely, Ruby summarizes the allure and the empowerment of body mod, stating “I don’t think it’s really fair that God gets to choose what we look like on the outside, do you?”
This sort of direct control over one’s physical features, particularly when enacted by women/for women, this craven need for specific suturing that allows Mary to not only hone her craft, but define herself through her knack for flawlessly changing skin and bodies. She articulates her selfhood with each stitch while simultaneously allowing those she operates on to attain their purest selves. It is certainly no coincidence that during Mary’s operation on Ruby, the rendition of “Ave Maria” we hear in the opening scene is woven in to the scene just as effortlessly as Mary’s surgical tools carve and reshape Ruby’s flesh. Both women are symbiotically asserting selfhood through an act often thought to barbarously or carnally be “just for men.”
Themes of feminine self-expression and self-possession take on another dimension in turns of representation when the disturbing element of bodily violation (through rape) is jarringly introduced into the film’s narrative. Mary, who has purchased a new car and clothes with the exorbitant gobs of under-the-operating-room-table money she makes through body mod, attends a party hosted by the repulsively skeevy Dr. Grant, where she is a lone female presence surrounded by lecherous men in her desired field. Already coded as a predator, we are not shocked but nevertheless paralyzingly appalled as Dr. Grant drugs and rapes Mary, all while filming the violent transgression. It would almost seem this act, and the Soska’s directorial choice to unflinchingly present the violation in its entirety (often from Mary’s “perspective”) betrays the trenchant themes of female self-possession and autonomous expression established in the film, and falls into the triggering and tiresome trend of rape and sexual assault in other films. However, keeping with the Soska’s own sentiments conveyed in their 2014 interview with Bitch Flicks, the inclusion of the graphic assault scene is reflective of the prevalence of violence against women — sexual, physical, emotional, and so on — that is often ignored, disputed, or monetized. The violence that is acted upon Mary is not a plot device nor a gratuitous exploitation of the female body — and the ensuing violence she enacts as either retribution or psychological processing is not portrayed as erotic or glamorous. Rather, it is seen as coping — tasteless, merciless, and often directionless coping to contend with an act that defied explanation. What is critical, though, is that Mary never loses nor surrenders her mastery over suturing and the identity she consecrates through that (though, she does relinquish from the male-dominated “legitimate” surgeons’ realm). Even down to her final moments, she is in control of her craft and identity.

I found myself oddly calling upon a seemingly unrelated text during my viewings of American Mary. With each scene, moments from English novelist Frances Burney’s agonizing epistolary non-fiction piece, “Letter to Esther Burney,” began to suture themselves, as it were, to the action of the film. Burney’s groundbreaking and painfully vivid description of her diagnosis with cancer, the complete deprivation of her voice and autonomy over her own body at the hands of countless male physicians both before and during the mastectomy, and gruesome accounts of the gore and pain of the surgery, are eerily connected to the work done in American Mary.
While both the film and text depict outlandish trauma acted on bodies — whether it be Mary’s rape or Burney’s invasive cancer and equally invasive and debasing procedure to remove it — both reinstate women’s voices and female autonomies in unconventional means. Burney is able to champion her suffering by authorially disseminating her trauma in text, and thus re-transcribes herself into the surgical act which initially strips her of her selfhood. Mary, an author in her own right through her magisterial surgical prowess that defies the parameters of her patriarchal field, literally carves out her own voice and her own sense of control (for better and for worse) through modifying the bodies of others (which in turn allows those individuals to inhabit empowered identities) and altering the man who violated her. Both women confront their trauma, the desecration their bodies endure, by refusing to relinquish the crafts which define them and allow them to reclaim their bodies.
The ethics in American Mary are often dubious at best, but as in Burney’s letter the empowerment of the text — as is often the case with what little room women are allowed to articulate themselves in — lies in ferocious audacity sutured in each line or each layer of flesh.

See also at Bitch Flicks:
American Mary: In Praise of the Amoral Final Girl
Talking with Horror’s Twisted Twins: An Interview with the Soska Sisters

Eva Phillips is a relatively recent import to Pittsburgh, PA. She relocated from the crust of Virginia after receiving her BA in English at the University of Virginia to complete her Masters at Carnegie Mellon University. Her interests include: representations of femininity and violence in film, refusing to quell her excitement over The Fast and the Furious franchise; having every cat; queer representations in horror and melodrama (both film and television); queer sexuality and religion; and finally getting to meet Sia and maybe wear her wig. In addition to Bitch Flicks, she writes for the good folks at Indie Film Minute, and has appeared in Another Gaze Journal. Her various disintegrations can be viewed at https://www.instagram.com/menzingers2/.