Women don’t get a lot of credit in the horror genre. Seeking titles other than scream queen or final girl, more and more women are taking charge behind the camera, opting for roles writing and directing the stories that dare to terrify us. With the rise of a new generation of female filmmakers, these new voices in the horror genre will leave no subject, taboo, or trauma unexplored – addressing topics from sexual assault to going through puberty.
These 10 directors are newer to the genre, but their work has already left a mark on the world of horror. Check out their films as part of Women in Horror month and make sure to support them any month of the year.
Lisa Brühlmann took the idea of the beautiful mermaid and made it into something full of body horror with Blue My Mind (2018). She combines the horrors of growing up and changing bodies with webbed toes and scaly legs. While some may see it as a slower, less gory take on the coming-of-age tale, it is a thoughtful take on the anxieties of trying to fit in and what happens when it all seems to go wrong. She is able to translate these anxieties and make them into something truly terrifying, capturing the fear of being a teenage girl in a way that only a female director can.
While slightly outside of the horror realm, she’s slated to direct two upcoming episodes of the BBC series, Killing Eve.
With her film The Devil’s Doorway (2018), Aislinn Clarke was the first woman from Northern Ireland to make a horror movie. She made a fresh take on the found-footage subgenre, one that can sometimes feel overdone, utilizing issues in Ireland to make a terrifying film. The film takes place in a Magdalene Laundry, a house for “fallen women,” where several miracles have happened. The Vatican sends two priests to investigate these alleged miracles, only to discover the terrifying truth of what the nuns are hiding.
Her sound design, film format, and setting all give The Devil’s Doorway a unique feel that gets under your skin. While The Devil’s Doorway is Clarke’s first feature film, she directed several short films, such as Childer (2016) and Short, Sharp Knocks (2015). All of her films revolve around Irish culture and folklore, telling stories that surprise and shock audiences—Ireland has a darker history than expected. With the success of The Devil’s Doorway, and its support from IFC Midnight, hopefully we’ll see more of Clarke very soon.
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Revenge (2017) is a personal favorite of mine, completely rewriting the rape-revenge narrative and throwing up a middle finger to the male gaze. This is all thanks to new director, Coralie Fargeat. Her colorful, gory, and bass-thumping debut gives us a female protagonist who subverts expectations and proves the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Fargeat is one of the first women to tackle the rape-revenge subgenre, and there is a marked difference in how she handles these exploitative tropes. She offers a new way to depict rape onscreen as more than just a demeaning act, while also dousing the film in the type of gore that’s expected from the New French Extremity.
While there aren’t any announced projects for Fargeat, she is a director to watch, one that I hope continues to put a gory, feminist twist on the horror genre.
Natalia Leite is another director tackling the exploitative rape-revenge genre with her 2017 film, M.F.A. Unlike Fargeat, who puts a quasi-fantastical twist to Revenge, Leite chooses to portray the devastating reality of sexual assault on college campuses and the lack of resources and support available for survivors. Her protagonist, Noelle (Francesca Eastwood), dons a pink wig after her rape and sets out to get justice for herself and all of the other women on campus who have been wronged. It is an emotional, violent, and heart-wrenching film that speaks to the experience of so many survivors.
Mexican director and writer Issa López isn’t new to the film world—she’s written and directed several films such as Casi Diva (2008) and Efectos Secundarios (2006). However, her most recent film, Tigers Are Not Afraid (2018), has rocketed her to horror fame and catching the attention of the legendary Guillermo del Toro, who will be producing her next film. This film follows a group of children during Mexico’s drug wars and the ghosts that haunt them. It toured the festival circuit, garnering praise from many horror critics (including our own Chris Aitkens). However, it still hasn’t gotten U.S. distribution.
This isn’t the end of López’s delve in the world of horror. It was recently announced that she’ll be directing a supernatural revenge thriller for Legendary.
Actress Alice Lowe is known for her comedic roles in The Mighty Boosh, Hot Fuzz, and Sightseers. Now, she’s jumped behind in the camera for Prevenge (2016), where she also stars as Ruth. This horror-comedy is about the terror of pregnancy, a common topic in the genre, but with a twist: the baby is supposedly dictating Ruth’s actions, forcing her to go on a homicidal rampage. Shudder was able to secure distribution rights to this film, sharing it with the horror world and showcasing Lowe’s ability to weave horror and comedy.
While Rust Creek isn’t Jen McGowan’s feature film debut, it is her first foray into horror. And what a first foray it is. Like many of the women on this list, she subverts typical horror tropes, in this case those of the Final Girl and murderous hicks, to create something new and empowering for her female character, Sawyer (Hermione Corfield), and female audiences alike.
McGowan also works to empower and connect women in film and television with her site, filmpowered.com.
Mitzi Peirone’s Braid (2019) is an acid trip of a movie, the likes of Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy (2018). She burst onto the horror scene with a film about three friends playing a deranged game of make-believe full of hammers, PCP, and murder. Peirone utilizes her cast, especially Madeline Brewer (Cam), who plays the mentally ill Daphne who hosts this game. Peirone’s voice and vision screams throughout Braid, showcasing her unabashed creativity and fearlessness.
Yes there’s another mermaid horror film on this list because they are finally getting the attention they deserve. Agnieszka Smoczynska peered into my soul and decided to make a horror mermaid musical set in an alternate version of Poland. The Lure (2015) follows two mermaid sisters as they come on land and get jobs singing in a nightclub. There, they prey on human flesh, but, one of them falls in love. This colorful, and gory, reimagining of The Little Mermaid landed Smoczynska on the horror map.
After The Lure, Smoczynska directed Fugue (2018), a not-as-flashy film about memory loss and motherhood. These two films back to back showcase Smoczynska’s versatility as a director and the range of stories she can tell.
Before she directed New Year, New You (2018), the fourth installment of Hulu’s Into the Dark series, Sophia Takal directed Always Shine (2016). It is a film with a similar feel to New Year, New You as both follow friends whose relationships become fractured and violent as each progress. However, there isn’t the social media layer to Always Shine. It is just two friends who each harbor jealousy and resentment for each other. They think that a vacation together will save their friendship, but as we’ve seen before, an isolated vacation only leads to tragedy.
Takal’s talent and work on Always Shine paved the way for New Year, New You (which Jessica Rose of the site reviewed). Takal has a talent, as Rose says, “of mixing contemporary issues, topical influences, and hardcore horror all behind one closed door.”
Any up-and-coming Female Directors that didn’t make our list? Continue the conversation with the Nightmare on Film Street community over on Twitter, our Official Subreddit, or the Fiend Club Horror Group on Facebook!