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Posted on April 28, 2017

Trauma and Final Girls in Two New Novels

Guest Post

By Ashley Pfeiffer

This is the year of final girls dissected. Final Girls by Mira Grant (pen name of Seanan McGuire) and Final Girls by Riley Sager share a name and a fascination with the trauma that shapes the figure of the final girl. The approaches taken by each novel, though, are drastically different, highlighting just how elastic the horror genre can be. Both are definitely worth reading.

In Sager’s Final Girls (due out in July, 2017 from Dutton Books), Quincy is a well-adjusted host of a popular baking blog, living in a lovely New York City apartment with a darling fiancé. Years earlier, however, she was the only survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre. She shares the distinction of final girl with Lisa, a sorority sister whose sisters were taken out by a college dropout wielding a knife, and Sam, a former maid, who survived the Sac Man while working at the Nightlight Inn. The media dubbed them “The Final Girls” and worked its magic to facilitate a meeting. Unfortunately, the meeting never happened, and Quincy overcame her trauma and moved on with her life with the help of Xanax and Coop (the cop who saved her). Quincy built her perfect life by simply forgetting everything about Pine Cottage. Her “Final Girl” legacy comes knocking at her door again, though, when Lisa is found dead with her wrists slit in her bathtub and Sam shows up at Quincy’s door with dire warnings.

While Sager’s novel is rooted in realism, Mira Grant’s Final Girls (Subterranean Press, 2017) is a blend of science fiction and horror—a hybrid genre that Grant has perfected. The science fiction is explained just enough to make you question whether it could be possible (as in her NewsFlesh trilogy). In Grant’s Final Girls, a skeptical science reporter, Esther Hoffman, is our entry into the world of virtual reality as a newly-developed means of curing trauma. While Ester ends up at Dr. Jennifer Webb’s facility in order to debunk these new methods, she agrees to Dr. Webb’s proposal that she enter the virtual reality simulator (using the cocktail of drugs and VR pod) in order to address some of her own past traumatic experiences. If Webb’s methods indeed work on Esther, then she’ll endorse her technology; if not, Esther has the perfect weapon to discredit Webb’s work. The rub is that Webb’s technology works best using fear to rewrite impulses in the brain—and what better way to cause fear than those pop culture darlings, slashers and zombies? When Webb also joins the simulation with Esther (back in their high school days), things begin to go wrong, leaving the two women trapped in a simulation gone awry as the undead gather.

Aside from their shared title, Sager’s and Grant’s works appear to have little in common. They both, though, are fascinated with trauma and with the role that fear plays in motivating characters to address and rework (past) trauma* into and through (present) action.  Only by confronting her past—and, yes, I mean physically confronting it—can Sager’s Quincy begin to reconstruct herself as something beyond a final girl. The same holds true for Grant’s Esther and Webb, along with all the other clients of Dr. Webb mentioned in Final Girls. The fear caused by Dr. Webb’s VR program causes an emotional response that changes the emotional feeling left by the trauma, and other feelings are left behind.

Both novels raise ethical questions about confronting trauma, especially Grant’s Final Girls, in which the confrontation is, thanks to virtual reality, quite literal. Even if the benefits outweigh the severe costs, should someone be made to confront their past, to change the way they view the past?

In Sager’s Final Girls, Sam wants Quincy to remember the Pine Cottage Massacre. She wants details, but her willful forgetting is all that is holding Quincy’s life together. Is Quincy’s life without these memories less real than her life with them—and, more importantly, who gets to decide? Ultimately, a physical confrontation takes the dilemma out Quincy’s control, but that lack of control only highlights these questions about memory and choice. The same holds true for Grant’s Final Girls, albeit with an added layer of unreality. If a third party (Dr. Webb) is creating scenarios for patients to address their trauma, she is in control of much of their experiences and emotions.  Is this control ethical? Grant doesn’t answer these questions, but she does raise them in the novel, leaving the reader to ponder as they read.

I can’t pretend to answer the questions about trauma and memory that these two novels raise. I’m not an ethicist. But thinking about trauma and the autonomy of the final girl’s choice to address her own trauma added to the richness of this iconic horror figure. Plus, both novels delve into the slasher genre and include horror trivia sprinkled in for the attentive fan.

* I hesitate to say that any character in these novels cure or overcome trauma because I see their journeys more as a process. They may have reworked trauma in to a different emotion or action, but no past experience could disappear.

For a discussion of the film, Final Girls (Todd Strauss-Schulson, 2015), which similarly dissects the trope of the Final Girl, check out our post by Elizabeth here.

And for a fascinating account of how the Final Girls of horror helped her overcome the trauma of sexual assault, see Lauren Milici’s article, “Saved by the Final Girl” on Birth, Movies, Death.

 

 

Ashley Pfeiffer is an editorial assistant for the AACR and is involved in advocacy and fundraising for Channel Initiative. Check us out (http://www.channelinitiative.org/). She is a huge horror fan and keeps a Herbert West poster above her bed.

Posted on April 25, 2017

Failure to Protect: Families in Shyamalan’s Split

Guest Post

By Lorenzo Servitje

What really scares me about M. Night Shyamalan’s Split (2016) is the opening: A father, his teenage daughter Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), and her two “friends” (we’ll get to this) Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) return to their car after his daughter’s birthday party. The girls climb into Claire’s father’s luxury car first, while he finishes putting left-overs in the trunk. The slightly wide-angle shot shifts to point-of-view.

The next scene unhurriedly reveals a stranger (James McAvoy) as he puts on a painter’s mask and, with callous efficiency, chloroforms Marcia and Claire, right before seeing Casey and subsequently rendering her unconscious as well.

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Posted on April 20, 2017

The Good Son and the Moral Breakdown of Childhood

Guest Post

By Kaitlyn Way

Children in horror fiction and film often challenge romantic perceptions of childhood as an idyllic and innocent phase of life. These representations of children frequently serve as either a warning against familial instability or as an indication of society’s collective fears and anxieties. With this in mind, Joseph’s Ruben’s 1993 psychological thriller The Good Son reacts to the “parental panic” of the late twentieth-century and to the widespread belief that American childhood was disintegrating.*

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Posted on March 30, 2017

Girl Trouble: The Blackcoat’s Daughter/aka February

Guest Post

Guest Author: Bernice M. Murphy

Warning: This Article Contains Minor Spoilers.

Writer/director Oz Perkins’ assured debut feature film, The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), known in the UK and Ireland as February, represents a fascinating treatment of a preoccupation that has become intriguingly prominent in recent American horror cinema: that of the threat posed by dangerously unhinged girls and young women. The past five years alone have seen the release of Excision (Richard Bates, 2012); Stoker (Park Chan-wook, 2013), Alyce Kills (Jay Lee, 2011), The Bleeding House (Philip Gelatt, 2011), We Are What We Are (Jim Mickle, 2013), Last Girl Standing (Benjamin R. Moody, 2015), Let Her Out (Cody Calahan, 2016), Darling (Mickey Keating, 2015), and The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016). Then there is the much-hyped French film Raw (2016), which is about a neurotic female student whose first-term mental breakdown leads to cravings that are a tad extreme. All of these films are about deeply troubled young women who possess an initially latent potential for violence that explodes in the second half of the narrative. Their horrific behavior is usually presented as being the result of severe mental illness that has gone tragically undetected by family and friends because they look (relatively) “normal.” Both dysfunctional familial environments and the romantic and professional stresses of becoming a fully individuated and conventionally successful adult are often implicitly presented as key contributing factors. Read more

Posted on March 13, 2017

The Child as Vampire in Let the Right One In

Guest Post

The vampire tradition in fiction and film has served as a vehicle to explore various anxieties of western culture during the last century. Few texts, however, have explored the possibilities of representing a child as the night-dwelling and blood-sucking terror that so effectively haunts audiences. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008) fills that gap, portraying the villainous vampire not as a charismatic adult male with colonizing intentions, but instead as a quiet, twelve-year-old girl whose protection of a bullied young boy leads to their friendship.  While the children in the film may appear weak and insecure, their horrific brutality towards adults proves that the young vampire is anything but innocent. Let the Right One In contributes to the vampire cultural mythology, specifically, by showing childhood monstrosity to be a result of a failed family structure.

While Let the Right One In borrows from the vampire tradition, it contributes to vampire culture by using the child vampire to suggest adult anxieties about the violent potential of children. The young vampire Eli (Lina Leandersson) serves as a “repository of adult fears about children, who are like us yet in crucial ways so different, who are both vulnerable and demanding, and in touch with the id in ways that that can elicit great anxiety…”[i] As seen in Let the Right One In, the neglect of children demonstrates the failed family structure that allows the violent impulses of Eli and Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) to surface.[ii] The adults in Eli and Oskar’s life fail to serve as a moral and ideological force capable of suppressing the violent tendencies that adults fear. Let the Right One In shows that, without these governing forces, “the power of children to inspire…terror…because of their vulnerability and uncontrollability has moved to the cultural front.”[iii] Eli’s relationship with Håkan (Per Ragnar), as well as Oskar’s distance from his parents, demonstrate how the absence of adults allows the child monster to surface.

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