Horror movies have been winnowing their casts down to a “final girl” since the 1970s. But as these more recent films show—on a list that includes two reboots of early slashers—the chances of survival are much greater when it’s a group of women instead... even if the dynamics within that group aren’t always peaceful.
One year after their last outdoor adventure ended in tragedy, six women whose daredevil tendencies range from “I’ll try anything once” to “X Games” gather in the North Carolina mountains for some spelunking fun. Their sport of choice is one that requires a solid foundation of trust—but that begins to splinter once they realize the trip’s organizer, Juno (Natalie Mendoza), has routed them not to a well-known cave, but instead to an uncharted system filled with dangers both natural and decidedly unnatural. Terror ensues.
While Neil Marshall’s gory thriller does feature a final girl—Shauna Macdonald’s Sarah, though her ultimate fate depends on which of the film’s alternate endings you happen to be watching—a good chunk of The Descent sees the women putting aside their own disagreements to wail on the bloodthirsty creatures whose turf they’ve inadvertently invaded.
Natalie Erika James’ artfully gloomy exploration of aging—and how it can also affect the younger generations in a family—takes a turn toward creature horror in its final act. But the tension it builds on the way there comes mostly from the dynamics between Kay (Emily Mortimer), her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), and Kay’s mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin). Edna lives alone, in a home so isolated it’s a few days or maybe longer before someone contacts Kay to let her know the elderly woman, who’s showing signs of dementia, has gone missing.
The foreboding mise-en-scène, Kay’s recurring nightmares, and some mentioned-in-passing dark family history signal there’s something more afoot, especially when Edna turns back up with something decidedly off about her—though Relic delicately dances around whether or not it’s just her illness that caused the change. Mother and daughter, and other mother and daughter, must dig deep and find the roots of their family bonds while facing the unimaginable terror that follows.
Forty years after she barely escaped with her life—and was left to mourn friends who weren’t so lucky—Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a self-taught survivalist who’s spent the intervening time preparing for Michael Myers’ return. Her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), thinks she’s paranoid; her teenage granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is hopeful that the family can find some degree of normalcy someday. But all the sticking points in their respective relationships evaporate when Michael inevitably shows up at Laurie’s fortress of a home, intent on annihilating everyone after racking up a body count along the way.
Before long, it’s go time, and the women are locked in a fight to the death (or a fight to the sequel, as these things go) with the monster: Karen’s a crack shot, Laurie’s good with any nearby weapon, including pots and pans, and Allyson proves swift with Michael’s own favorite weapon, a butcher knife. Since this is a seemingly indestructible force of evil we’re talking about, their ultimate victory isn’t assured, but at least Laurie isn’t alone in outlasting him this time.
Rob Savage’s Zoom sensation Host is a stylistic anomaly on this list, since the characters in the film are (mostly) only “together” via the internet. The circle of friends’ commitment to social distancing is admirable. But when some among them take a jokey approach to the virtual séance they’ve organized to shake up their quarantined social lives, the spirit realm takes offense. In the grand tradition of found footage horror, the webcams keep rolling as the women (and one man, but he’s barely present) realize they’re dealing with a demonic intruder, and they all encourage and reassure each other as best they can from afar. It’s pretty much all they can do under the circumstances—but anything’s better than facing such a horrific nightmare all alone!
While there’s no taking the place of Bob Clark’s groundbreaking original Black Christmas, Sophia Takal’s recent redo did make some interesting adjustments to update its tale of sorority sisters stalked by a ruthless killer. From the start, there’s an atmosphere of dread hanging over Hawthorne College, a school that’s managed to attract a number of bright, feminist students despite the fact that its founder was known to be an extreme misogynist.
A supernatural element comes into play when the long-dead Hawthorne’s violent hatred begins infecting 21st-century frat bros. But there’s nothing but pent-up rage propelling the surviving women—who’ve endured everything from English lit classes with all-white, all-male reading lists to campus cops who are dismissive of sexual assault—when it comes time for the climactic fight scene. It is gory, brutal, and most triumphant. Sometimes a polite petition against a sexist professor is the way to go; other times, it’s necessary to literally set his black-magic-practicing, encouraging-men-to-harm-women ass on fire and watch him burn.
Practical Magic has become an annual Halloween favorite thanks to its delightful portrayal of a family of witches with excellent ‘90s fashion and enviably lustrous hair, who all live together in maybe the prettiest movie house in the cutest movie town ever. But beneath all the spells, sisterly bonding, funny hats, and midnight margaritas lurks a surprisingly poignant tale of an abusive relationship, which sees Gillian (Nicole Kidman) controlled by her ex-boyfriend even after he’s died, come back to life, and died again. The movie builds toward a finale that sees all of the women in the PTA—even those who are notoriously suspicious of witches—join together for a ritual involving brooms and chanting that’ll drive the bastard out once and for all. Not only do they succeed in setting Gillian free, there’s also a happy side effect of everyone finally putting aside their differences and becoming friends.
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