Film season

Inspired by the release of Julia Ducournau’s genre-shattering body horror Titane, this special season explores how female filmmakers have used monstrous bodily transformations to reclaim and empower the female body.

Nothing has been as simultaneously glamourised, demonised and objectified by societies around the world as the female form. When represented in our media and on our screens the female body is often commodified and hyper-sexualized. In myths and folklore from various cultures, however, women who are seen as powerful are often depicted as witches, monsters, succubi, sirens and more.

Trailblazing director Julia Ducournau, who recently became the second woman to ever win Cannes’ Palme d’Or, is challenging the over-simplified depiction of women on our screens, using the language of body horror to do so. Both of Ducournau’s two features to date – Raw and Titane – have rejected glamourised or demonised depictions of female bodies, instead presenting them as a site of nuance, fluidity, and unfiltered humanity.

From menstruation to motherhood, birth control to menopause, throughout our lives women are contained and betrayed by our bodies and by patriarchal structures that claim ownership of them. Cinematic bodily mutations therefore feel particularly qualified to explore the female body, and its duality as an object to both fear and fear for. This season, which takes its name from the term coined by Barbara Creed to challenge misogynistic, one-dimensional understandings of women in horror, delves into how four exceptional female directors have portrayed monstrous transformations as a form of catharsis for their central characters.

The title of Ana Lily Amirpour’s exhilarating vampire-western A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night suggests that our heroine will be a victim. But as a young woman in a traditional veil roams the streets of the fictional Iranian ghost town of Bad City, it soon becomes clear that she is the predator here, and that the monsters she’s fighting are patriarchal ones. Similarly, in Ducournau’s cannibal-comes-of-age tale, Raw, Justine’s insatiable bloodlust acts as a form of empowerment – unabashed by her bodily desires, Justine’s transformation is a celebration of discovering who you are and what you want, albeit with brutally bloody results.

In Rungano Nyoni’s I Am Not a Witch, the threat of transformation acts as a punishment. When nine-year-old Shula is accused of being a witch, she must either accept the occult title conferred on her and live a life (quite literally) tethered, or reject her local community and be transformed into a goat. Shula’s choice between enforced conformity and metamorphosis was inspired by Nyoni’s visit to real-life Zambian witch-camps, and her observation that the village’s goats roam more freely than the women who live there.

In making prepubescent body horror Evolution, director Lucile Hadzihalilovic was inspired by her own traumatic childhood experience of being operated on. Hadzihalilovic reversed the genders of her own experience to create a matriarchal society, set in an eerily isolated seaside hospital, inhabited only by young boys and the women who perform alarming medical procedures on them. Hadzihalilovic twists body horror tropes to reflect the sensation of awakening to your surroundings and developing a mistrust of the authorities you are told are there to protect you – a feeling that is all too familiar for marginalised genders around the world.

Each director celebrated in this season uses bodily transformations for a different reason. But in all of these films, a young protagonist steps into their power and uncovers their true self through a metamorphosis. As our monsters come of age in a world that is often ruthlessly brutal and unkind, leaving their old skin behind becomes the ultimate sacrifice, one made in order to be free from the societies, structures and superstitions and that would otherwise contain, oppress, and deny them.

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