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Rising Above: The Women in Hounds of Love *Spoilers Below!*

Published May 12, 2017 by rmpixie

Hounds of Love (2016, 1 hr, 48 mins.)

In Hounds of Love, Ben Young’s first feature-length film, a murderous couple in the city of Perth, Australia, stalks teenage girls to fulfil their sexual fantasies. The acts are orchestrated by John (Stephen Curry), a sexual predator who is cold, mean and conniving. His character is riveting because Young gives you just enough to wonder about what happened to this man to make him so diabolical, but the women surrounding him are equally compelling.

The film is set in 1987, when women were still coming off the gains from first wave feminism only to be kicked back by conservatism in the Reagan era. Traditional values were revisited and shunned by women who wanted to blaze trails and be the independent people their sisters before them fought for. I’m not sure if Young took any of this into account as he wrote the film, but with this era as a backdrop, there’s an interesting theme of traditional versus the modern woman running through the story.

Keeping second-wave feminism in mind, there are two distinct representations of women in the film. We have Vicki’s mother Maggie (Susie Porter) who is gaining her independence after leaving her husband, and Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) herself, a young adult pushing the boundaries and also looking for her place in the world without any parental interference. These two characters represent the burgeoning modern woman. Evelyn (Emma Booth), John’s wife and murderous cohort, is the more traditional figure. She does the cooking, cleaning and looks after her man and his conquests, doing her wifely duties in an extreme way.

Cummings as Vicki just before she is abducted.

Maggie is spreading her wings. Newly divorced, she is starting her new life and hopes to maintain her relationship with her daughter. Divorce in the 80’s was no longer taboo, in fact, it was becoming more common at that time due to changes with laws in North America and Australia. As a child of divorce, Vicki is processing her broken family home and experiencing her rebellious teen years. She deals with it in a typical way by defying her mother, seen as the person who destroyed their family because she’s left both Vicki and her father. Vicki attempts to be her own person despite the upheaval, and even has some power over her well-meaning boyfriend as he writes her school assignments for her. Both women are making efforts to create their own identity. Evelyn, on the other hand, finds comfort in her relationship. She is John’s caretaker and literal partner in crime; the nursemaid to their victims and his dutiful wife. There is no defiance here, only the urge to serve and be wanted. The actions of all three have consequences of varying degrees, but Evelyn’s is the most extreme case by living under the façade of a traditional role while she aids and abets the criminal activities of John.

Each woman will affect one another’s lives in the most unsettling of ways. When Vicky rebels against her mother and sneaks out to go to a party, she is lured into captivity by Evelyn and John. She is tough, however, and thinks on her feet, not succumbing completely to the fear of her abduction. As Evelyn cares for her captive, she forces information out of Vicki, and becomes jealous of her when she realized John’s interest in their captive. Evelyn wants to be as defiant and desirable as the teen, and when she fails to stand up to John, wants to break Vicki’s spirit to prove John loves her more.

We find out that Evelyn comes from a history of abuse that John rescued her from, and it’s the only thing she knows. She is angry, isolated and desperate, and needs something to care about since her children from a previous relationship were taken from her, so John gives her a dog. Her dog is a replacement for the lost children and her only tie to maternal feelings. Director Young said he used the dog to create sympathy for Evelyn, and it does indeed do that as it finds a violent end. But what we must remember is that she is part and parcel with John’s evil machinations. Even though she fears him and fears losing him, she knows right from wrong and still decides to participate. It’s this sobering fact that she played a part in the deaths of their victims, and that her washing the bloodied sheets and cleaning up the crime scene is just as heinous as the act itself. She is the woman that will do anything for love.

John (Curry) and Evelyn (Booth) have a moment together before the brutality.

Evelyn and Maggie are complete opposites. Evelyn represents the perversion of domestic subservience. She does as John wants, takes care of the home, and yearns to be a mother where Maggie refuses this role. Maggie moves into her own house and wants to start fresh, but the resentment felt by her husband when their daughter goes missing is a fresh wound that he picks at, blaming her for their child’s disappearance and shaming her for her independence. Maggie shows inner strength in this situation as she refuses his patronizing help, determined to find her daughter; in fact, Maggie ignores the patronizing police officers as well and carries on with the search led by her instincts.

Where Maggie stands up to her husband, John taunts Evelyn about losing her children and she takes it. Her traditional mindset in this setting is a distortion of the abuses women fight against. Top it off with John’s monstrous and manipulative patriarchal power, and you have an extreme microcosm of what traditional norms do to women who reject them. Maggie’s punishment for leaving the nuclear home is her daughter’s rape and torture.  At one point Evelyn tells Vicki she should have listened to her mother and stayed home after Vicki tells her the truth about her dog’s role and that John is just using her. Evelyn also judges Maggie even though she doesn’t know her, sneering at the broken marriage; mocking Maggie’s independence perhaps because Evelyn too has tried to leave but failed on her own. She doesn’t want to focus on the wrongs she has done to the young women they have captured, instead emboldened by falling back into John’s favour, she taunts and blames Vicki for the crimes committed against her.  It’s as if Evelyn and John feel justified in their actions because these independent women didn’t toe the line and stick with traditional roles.

Evelyn and John lord over the girls like a twisted traditional family. They punish those coming up in the new world, dominating girls and putting them in their place. They don’t put them in a shed or a dark, dank basement, instead their victims are placed in a very regular bedroom, held down with chains. It shows their arrogance and how close evil lies in seemingly safe environments. We never get to know John’s backstory or internal process, but it seems that from the relationship he has with other men, namely his drug dealer, he is the low man on the totem pole and his displeasure manifests in obsessive behaviour and manipulating, dominating, or killing women.

*************************Spoiler Alert*******************************************************

There is only so much unrealistic traditional values can affect its environment and only so far it can go with the fantasy that everyone will accept their roles. The same goes for John and Evelyn. The murderous couple’s vision of marital bliss and conservative appearance is skewed by their fervour for sex, blood and torture and they aren’t as perfect as they see themselves. Even though John calls Evelyn his “queen” and he seems to love her in a way, neighbours complaining about their toxic relationship reveals that imperfection. Eventually there has to be a breaking point and Evelyn will reach it because of her insecurities surrounding her desirability. With this crack in the façade, it’s only a matter of time before things start to crumble.

Maggie finds the neighbourhood where Vicki is being held and frantically shouts her name in the street. In this moment, Evelyn relates to Maggie’s loss as a mother and must make a decision. Egged on by Vicki’s goading, she chooses to kill John because he has denied her of her children as well. In this moment, she finally stands up to him, and becomes independent like Maggie and Vicki. Her fate is sealed but she is now free of a domineering male figure; freeing herself, and the other women around her from the torture. She is by no means a heroine, but at the same time becomes a liberator of sorts for Vicki and herself.   Her last act is cold comfort for redemption, but at least closes the circle of evil she has perpetuated.

There is so much to say about male and female relationships, women’s power and accountability in such a brutal way in this film. I have only scratched the surface, but in a nutshell, Hounds of Love is not only a terrifying psychological thriller, but an in depth look at how women who step out of prescribed roles overcome criticism, sexism and brutality with inner strength.

*Read my review of the film on Cinema Axis here.

Ghostbusters 2016 Ain’t ‘Fraid o’ No Ghosts, and Ain’t That Bad Either!

Published August 2, 2016 by rmpixie

ghostbusterspsot

Ghostbusters (2016, 1 hr, 56 mins.)

The revamp of the classic comedy Ghostbusters has been the subject of nerd controversy ever since word got out that there would be a new film and an all female cast.  There was the infamously hated trailer, the championed the girl power angle, and the bellyaching, diehard fans who pooh-poohed the idea and spewed purist commentary to whoever had an ear to listen.  While the nerd storm rages on, this light and silly film was a fun addition to the ghost chasing tradition.

Erin (Kristen Wiig) is a physicist eyeing a job with tenure at Columbia, but is “haunted” by a book she penned with her then friend Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) about the paranormal in which she strongly stated her belief in ghosts.  Erin is desperately trying to hide this fact, but the book’s discovery by a descendant of the Aldridge Mansion Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley Jr.) has tracked not only the book down, but Erin herself in the hopes that she can help with a haunting there. Erin seeks out Abby to stop her revival of the book which jeopardizes Erin’s chances of moving up in the world.  When Abby hears about the Aldridge haunting, Erin reluctantly goes along, and they, along with Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a kooky engineering whiz kid and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), a seasoned New Yorker with a wealth of historic information about the city, begin a paranormal escapade that involves plenty of crazy antics and ectoplasm in order to save the Big Apple from ghosts once again.

I went into the theatre with no expectations.  I knew about the kerfuffle over the female cast and the purist haters, but I stayed clear of it because I didn’t want any bias for when I saw the film.  As the end credits rolled, I think the IMdb rating of 5.4 is a little harsh.  I was expecting some major story issues that veered off into far, far left field in terms of the Ghostbusters universe, but was surprised that it stayed really, almost too close to the formula of an intro to the team who then realizes there’s a threat and the subsequent resolution.  I though it was a fun, summer popcorn movie that paid homage to the franchise and I’m still wondering what the issue is.

chrisHGhostbusters

Chris Helmsworth as the hunky Kevin

Great one liners, kicky comedic timing, and the swooning over Chris Helmsworth as their handsome but ditzy receptionist Kevin hit all the right notes for something light, funny and unapologetically cute.  McKinnon and Jones steal the show, and I’m glad.  McCarthy and Wiig had their vehicle of Bridesmaids to catapult them into the comedy classic annals, leaving plenty of room for others to shine.  It could also be that McKinnon and Jones have great chemistry because they’re current castmates on SNL.  My only wish was that the surviving cast of the original 1984 film had reprised their roles instead of the random cameos placed in the film.  I think that would have made for something with a bit more substance.

And I simply don’t understand the trailer controversy.  The pointless amount of time people spent critiquing, commenting and whining over a 2-and-a-half-minute clip to promote a film that they can’t get back.  Newsflash:  Most trailers are misleading, too long, crappy or give you a false idea of what the film will be.  I didn’t see anything unusually bad about the Ghostbusters trailer, in fact, I didn’t really pay attention to it except to note the cast and that the reboot was nigh.  Another thing was all the vitriol against feminism spouted by the haters.  How Sony had some sort of “social justice” agenda.  Who knew casting four women would cause such a furor?

ghostbusters1

The Ghostbusting gals ready for battle (against ghosts…and crusty naysaying nerds…)

The character of Patty Tolan was also criticized for being a black stereotype.  I have a fine-tuned stereotype radar, and while I felt some of her wardrobe was probably considered “black” attire, and I agree with the criticism that she should have been a black scientist, her character was one of my favourites (especially during the concert scene).  She didn’t translate as “street-smart” as she is often described, but as a native New Yorker and historian, and having seen Jones’ stand-up act, she adds a bit of her shtick to the character of Patty.

I was in a theatre of mostly kids, and it was nice to hear them laughing at the gags and discovering a new take on the franchise.  There were also the older movie-goers like myself, including a woman who hooted and hollered each time an original ghostbuster made a cameo.  That made for a great time, reminded me why I liked the original and defied the lukewarm reviews floating around out there amidst all the school yard pouting about whether girl ghostbusters are better than boy ghostbusters.

Call Me Crazy But…Old School Horror and Female Intuition

Published April 10, 2014 by rmpixie

The last few days, I have been immersed in the psychological horrors of yesterday; films with minimal effects, a touch or two of shlock, a great cast and a largely sound story (most based on best-selling novels).  They have not been, and in my opinion, cannot be duplicated, bringing us creeping uneasiness and self-doubt, but all of them featured a doomed female protagonist.  From The Mephisto Waltz and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death to Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel, these sleek films of the late ’60’s and ’70’s deal with the struggles of female intuition, the feminine voice and sanity.

the mephisto waltz

In The Mephisto Waltz (1971), Paula Clarkson (Jacqueline Bisset) is married to failed concert pianist Myles (Alan Alda), who becomes the object of ailing musician and Satanist Duncan Ely’s (Curt Jurgens) desire.  Duncan wishes to re-incarnate himself into Myles’s young body so he can carry on being a master pianist.  Paula knows there is something amiss, but her instincts are constantly dismissed by friends, colleagues and doctors.  The feeling grows throughout the film until she makes the ultimate sacrifice to be with her possessed husband.

let's scare jessica to death

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971) brings us the story of Jessica (Zohra Lampert) who has recovered from a recent breakdown.  She moves to the country with her husband Duncan (Barton Heyman) and his buddy Woody (Kevin O’Connor) to live a more peaceful life, but they are met with strange occurrences in the small town surrounding their farm as well as a mysterious guest at their house.  She doubts herself constantly, believing she is still mentally ill, but all the while her instincts were right.

rosemary's baby

Of course we all know the story of Rosemary’s Baby (1968).  Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) knows there is something wrong from the conception of her unborn child to her neighbours and her isolation, but she too suppresses what she feels, believing others when she is labelled silly and emotional, and feels comforted that everyone else knows what’s best for her.  Dominated sexually and socially, she is treated like property by her husband Guy (John Cassevetes), who rents out her womb for Satan in exchange for fame.  Unfortunately, Rosemary realizes her own power and instinct too late in the game.  Cutting her hair, investigating her situation, and trying to plead her case to those in power will not give her the upper hand.  Since she can’t beat her oppressors, she reluctantly joins them.

the sentinel

The Sentinel (1977) brings us yet another intuitive woman in Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) who, despite being independent, modern and wanting to wait to get married, becomes a pawn in a supernatural fight for her soul.  When she experiences the unbelievable and tells the truth, she is medicated, subdued and her sanity is questioned, especially after two suicide attempts in her past.

All of these women have the same experience:  their gut tells them something is wrong.  That “wrong” is shrouded in so-called logical explanations, making them doubt their instincts.  Even though they know something isn’t right, it is because of traditional gender roles and a history of mental illness or fragility that allows the received rational thought of the time to discredit their natural, or preternatural instincts, intuition and experience.  Was this a way for the ruling patriarchy to play out fantasies of repressing the female voice in a time of feminist growth?  Second Wave Feminism (1960’s-late 1980’s) was emerging and questioning the status quo at that time.  What better way to subconsciously criticize women’s rights than to use popular culture to label women as crazy, fragile or silly for thinking outside of the box.  As the heroine feels an uneasiness with her situation, her free will and free thinking is routinely challenged as patriarchal ideologies escalate their self-doubt.  These women are penalized for being emotional, intelligent beings and for witnessing the extraordinary.  There is no “final girl” here, instead these films illustrate a “what if” scenario as supernatural forces (or society) overtake the rights of our heroines, taking a psychological snapshot in time to illustrate the consequences of defying social conventions.  Each woman is either subdued for speaking the truth like Alison and Jessica, or succumb to the pressures of society and their peers like Rosemary and Paula.

One film in particular, The Sentinel (with a star-studded cast including Christopher Walken, Chris Sarandon and Jeff Goldblum), blatantly deals with the emerging female voice and sexuality in the era of ‘Women’s Lib’.  Alison wants independence instead of marriage.  She is coping with a persistent fiancé-to-be, the death of her promiscuous father, her suicide attempts, and renewed Catholic faith.  She moves into an old apartment house owned by the Catholic Church where there is an array of odd neighbours, the most interesting being a lesbian couple Gerde (Sylvia Miles) and Sandra (Beverly D’Angelo).  Alison is invited to have coffee with them, and when Gerde leaves Alison alone for a moment with Sandra, she is subjected to Sandra’s bizarre display of masturbation.  Alison is shocked and embarrassed, but I think the scene is very important.  To me, it illustrates, in a somewhat heavy-handed way, Alison’s confrontation with her own sexuality as she embarks on a journey to find herself.  Gerde and Sandra represent Alison’s repressed sexuality trying to emerge in some form, becoming distorted as Alison denies that part of herself.  The couple is free to express themselves and this freedom is seen as a perversion, demonizing their lesbian relationship.  Since the house is owned by the church, it is a metaphor for Alison’s traditional beliefs that engulfs her as she tries to be independent.  Despite her efforts to be her own person, Alison is doomed as she is unable to let go of her ingrained traditional beliefs and be true to herself.  She will eventually become a mute and blind servant who no longer has a self or a say in her future.

the entity

As we move into the 1980’s, films like The Entity (1982) give us a more literal representation of woman versus the omnipresent oppressor.  Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is a single mother who is tormented and raped by an unseen demonic presence.  She is persuaded to see a therapist who tries to convince her that past trauma is the culprit for her attacks.  When she seeks help from a parapsychology team, her skeptics soon realize a bad childhood may not be the answer.   What is different here is that our heroine fights back and walks away instead of succumbing.  Determined and tenacious, Carla will not let this presence defeat her.   This adaptation of a book based on allegedly true events seems to be one of the earlier films that shows the woman as a bruised victor; carrying on despite her oppressor’s constant presence.

It is great to see how female intuition has evolved since these classic films.  While we still have work to do, women are continually challenging and changing conventional sexual, cultural and political roles in film and reality.  The Descent, Gothika, and The Invasion are great examples of modern psychological horrors featuring women who are strong in their determination and intuition to beat the odds and triumph against evil and those who challenge their sanity (honourable mention goes to the female leads in Doomsday, 28 Days Later and You’re Next for some kick-ass lady power!).  So what have I learned from these films?  I think it is basic.  Horror is a perpetual lesson of how we, especially women, should trust our gut and stick to our guns even in the face of naysayers, slashers and creepy crawlies.  As a woman myself, I can remember countless times when I was told I was too sensitive, or that I was overreacting; that I shouldn’t be so upset or emotional.  All of these observations made me self-conscious and suppress true emotion when my instincts that told me something wasn’t right.  I ended up paying for that in so many ways that now, in my present life, I will never let anyone shame me into hiding my feelings or not trusting my gut.  So the next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, or that you are crazy for what you feel, tell them to get stuffed, stand up for yourself, and carry on.  It might save you from the boogeyman one day…

 

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