Tag Archives: sexism

Monsters of Love

Last night I finally watched Spring, a film that I’ve heard nothing but positive ravings about. “One of the best horror films of the year so far” and I’m not here to say that I disagree, it’s a beautiful film both in plot and cinematography. However I do struggle with the idea that it is a horror film, in the sense that it is not a scary movie (Although a film doesn’t need to scare me for it to be considered a horror film) but it is a monster movie, a romantic monster movie. That in itself is not groundbreaking. Yet I feel like the response, or the response that I’m aware of, is. Why is Spring getting such praise when films like the Twilight series have been heralded as the horror-genre end of days?

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I feel like I should admit at this point that I have never watched a Twilight movie or read any of the books so any points that I make on them should be taken from the point of view that I’m not well educated on the series. What I do know is the vague plot that a teenage girl falls in love with a vampire and that there’s a werewolf who also loves the girl. There’s also something about vampire baseball but I’ll stop before I embarrass myself with my lack of knowledge. Girl loves monster. Monster loves girl. Forbidden love is abound. Spring, as much as I can say without spoilers, also features forbidden love between a human and a monster. After watching it, I must admit that I feel pretty hypocritical about any shit I gave Twilight when it first arrived on the scene. I wasn’t as bad as some but I had strong enough opinions to reject seeing those films.

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Twilight has received harsh criticism in the past due to the nature of the relationship between Edward and Bella, that it is sexist and abusive. Edward is controlling, manipulative and generally a threat to Bella’s safety. These are the sort of criticisms I can understand why people would respond negatively to the Twilight movies. Spring’s romantic elements don’t seem to have these problems, but the relationship between Evan and Louise doesn’t get to that a relationship status where that might become a problem. It’s more of the chase up to the commitment that is seen in Spring and any danger that Evan is in because of Louise, it’s his choice.

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So Spring doesn’t focus on an abusive relationship, which is a step up from Twilight. I have to ask the next question though, do the audience take Spring more seriously because it’s a man romantically involved with a monster rather than a girl? Does having Evan, a young man in his 20s, as the main protagonist rather than a teenage girl like Bella make it harder to dismiss his romantic intentions as foolish? He’s choosing to get into a potentially danger relationship with a creature who could easily kill him. Some might consider him brave and romantic, but he’s in a vulnerable state. He’s drifting in the world. He’s lost and this girl/monster is something he has chosen to love and commit to. If he was a teenage girl I’m sure there would be plenty people willing to point out there are plenty of potential partners out there who won’t accidentally monster-out and eat her. I can understand that a 20 year old has more life experience than a teenager when it comes to making romantic decisions but I don’t think that Evan is making any less risky a decision than Bella when it comes to settling down with a supernatural partner.

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Another reason that the choice of a male protagonist effects the audience response to this film is that there seems to be less of an obvious target demographic. Twilight was definitely marketed towards a female audience, mainly teenagers. I wouldn’t say I’m far off when I say that teenage girls are often stereotyped as being vapid, and that the films that marketed towards them are inconsequential and shallow. It’s an unfair generalisation that is based more on badly written characters written by men than actual teen girls. The marketing for Spring is much more focused on suspense and danger based on the tone of the trailer rather than the romantic story that dominates most of the plot. It’s like they were trying to avoid the romance in fears that it might discredit them in the eyes of a male audience.

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Lastly, I think the loudest argument I heard against Twilight, particularly after the first film came out was that it was ruining vampire movies. That the image of a vampire that sparkled was the most repulsively stupid addition to vampire mythology ever conceived. Okay the sparkling was a bit much but it was a minor thing, Sunlight still kills them (right?) but it’s just a bit of imagery that people who dislike the general idea of romantic monsters have latched onto as their major criticism of Twilight. Vampires have been seducing people forever so I don’t know why it’s such a big deal here. Sure some of those vampires seduced their prey, drank them and moved on, but it’s still part of the mythos. Spring is a lot more vague when it comes to it’s monster of choice. Louise isn’t a particular monster, she’s some kind of shape-shifter. She isn’t a reinvention of some classic movie monster. It’s her ambiguity that makes her a new kind of creature so there isn’t some backlash of monster fans screaming that her sappy romantic sentiments are ruining shape-shifters.

Overall I think that Spring is a great film, and if you haven’t seen it already you should go check it out. It’s a romantic creature feature that shows that supernatural inter-species romance isn’t dead. The monster imagery may just be metaphor for Louise’s baggage, be that emotional baggage or living with illness, and that everyone deserves love regardless of what life has thrown at them. Whether you choose to enjoy this film literally or metaphorically, I hope that you think twice about monsters in love.

Sex and Death

If you’ve seen your fair share of Slasher movies, you must be aware that one of the first people to die will be someone who has snuck off to have sex. Sex gets you killed in horror movies. It’s the kind of fact that channels the genre’s origins in old cautionary tales. The kind of Little Red Riding Hood story except exchange “Don’t stray from the path” to “Don’t have sex in old crime scenes”. While it all seems common sense to the viewing audience, do these old cautionary tales in our modern horror movies promote bad sexual attitudes?

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The idea that you will die if you have sex in a horror movie is the kind of abstinence-only sex education that has become out-dated in modern society, which would be relevant if the creators of horror films had any intention of teaching their audience about sex. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the twisted authoritarian ideas of slasher film killers (often pushed onto them by an abusive parent). Also it’s an easy way for horror film makers to get in a little bit of nudity to attract an audience. Follow up that nudity with some gratuitous violence and you’ve got yourself a hit with the young, heterosexual male audience that at one point made up the majority of the horror audience.

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One of the major archetypal characters in slasher films that we can all recognise is the “Slut” character. Often she is one of the first characters to get killed off, if not the very first. She will have little to no character traits other that being horny, probably a bit dim and physically attractive. While those character traits are not in themselves problematic, it is a problem that they are the only character traits. Writing female characters this way reinforces the idea that women are nothing more than disposable sex objects. I said before how the Slut character is “one of the first characters to get killed off”, in older horror films there was another archetypal character who was often killed off before the slut which was the Token Black Character, often thrown in to appear inclusive but these days is rarely used because it appears insensitive to make someone’s race (based on ridiculous stereotypes) their sole character trait. The Slut is getting to that point, that it is insensitive and dated and should be put to bed. The fact that the archetype name is entirely derogatory is evidence enough.

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To move away from the slasher sub-genre, there are many more sub-genres of horror that are more geared to entire plots focused around sex. There are plenty horror films, such as A Serbian Film, Feed, and The Bunny Game, that centre their plot around more disturbing circles of fetish culture and pornography. The British Board of Film Certification often gives these films a hard time, demanding cuts to be made as was the case for A Serbian Film, or banned outright like The Bunny Game. You would think, maybe if it got banned it’s a film so shocking and exciting that it’s probably fantastic. The Bunny Game is terrible, little plot and heavily promotes sexualised violence. The BBFC are strongly against sexualised violence and it was due to the fact The Bunny Game has little else to offer that got it banned. These films are often extreme and disturbing but the behaviour is almost always betrayed as deplorable. By demonising sexual violence, do these horror films guide people away from acting in a similar fashion?

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The Rape Revenge sub-genre was a product of the 70s exploitation cinema era, with notable films including Last House on the Left, I Spit on your Grave, and Straw Dogs. All these films shared a common plot line, that during the course of the film a young woman would be raped (and sometimes murdered) and either the young woman or one of her loved ones would get their bloody revenge. It is often said that the rape scene is acceptable because 1) it is showing a real world horror and it’s terrible nature, and 2) that the rapists are shown getting punished for their horrendous actions. However by making a whole sub-genre of this it seems to trivialise the act of rape, reducing it to nothing more than a standard plot-point that has to be visited before we can move on to the gory retribution.

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The last sub-genre I want to mention is the female predator sub-genre. Films like Species, Jennifer’s Body, Under the Skin, and to some level, Teeth, all fall into this sub-genre. While the female characters in these kind of films are generally more fleshed out and interesting characters, they are normally shown as evil. I would say that Teeth is the biggest exception to this because the female lead, while she does use this power to inflict cruel justice, it is still justice. Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body does kill boys out of her demon blood lust, but there is a sympathetic angle because men made her that way. The sub-genre shows that these women (or creatures in the form of women) are evil creatures that exploit the weakness of a male libido to gain power over men and that these women (or women-shaped creatures) should be destroyed.

While horror is a massive genre full of compelling, subversive, and thoughtful films, there are still many that are being made that will often use old tropes and clichés that can be concerning. We don’t need to keep making films where women are nothing but powerless sex objects, and that rape is nothing but a plot-point. There’s nothing wrong with using our insecurities about sex to create new cinematic nightmares, just hopefully more progressive nightmares.