As Women In Horror Month draws to an end, I wanted to bookend our discussion of the final girl with the character who, I feel, best depicts forward momentum. In order to see a clear trajectory I had to reflect upon Dawn’s discussion of Carol Clover and subsequently consider the criticisms mentioned by others such as BJ Colangelo and noted scholar Isabel Cristina Pinedo. [i] I agree that there are problematic components embedded within the final girl, much of which has to do with the assumption of male spectatorship. Nonetheless, I feel that there are positive representations of womanhood in recent horror film. Most notably, is the character Sarah Logan (played by Anne Ramsay) in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014).
Sarah Logan is the last woman standing. Granted, The Taking of Deborah Logan is not a slasher, and Sarah Logan is not your stereotypical final girl. Regardless, Sarah Logan is the survivor: she meets the killer, takes it on, and defeats it (or so we hope). This is as far as Sarah Logan follows the formula Carol Clover laid out for the final girl. Sarah is a lesbian in a relationship who has temporarily left her lover in order to care for her ailing mother. What I love most about Sarah is that she is a realistic representation of womanhood. She is vulnerable; we see her struggle, trying to make financial ends meet while balancing her relationship with the nebulous task of managing her mother’s Alzheimer’s. Sarah is flawed, she is scared, uncertain, she drinks to manage her stress, and she sometimes needs help from others.
Sarah Logan is a final girl who breaks the formulaic narrative of horror. Yes she is a smart brunette, but she never comes across as virginal or abstaining from vice. There are no signifiers that she will be the one to engage in a battle between good and evil. She doesn’t have a “Spidey sense” when she is near the bad guy, she doesn’t “see” more than others, and furthermore, her battle with evil is not gendered in the binary ways of earlier horror.
Sarah and her opposing forces muddy the waters of gender representation. I don’t want to say that Sarah is androgynous, because she is not. She doesn’t share the unisex names of her predecessors, and she is feminine but in a broader, more three dimensional sense of the word. Sarah is a hero without being a stereotypical, masculinized, kick ass archetype. She retains her femininity, her vulnerability, and her strength as she moves forward in the narrative.
Most importantly, Sarah Logan is a woman that women can identify with. For the sake of this article, we are going to say, screw male spectatorship, the sadistic male gaze, and patriarchal Freudian analysis (they all get too much lip service already). I can see myself in Sarah Logan, and I appreciate that this film sees that women outside their teens are spectators of film, including horror film. She is not some little girl floating about in a dangerous world constantly under attack from an assaultive male threat. She is a woman who has a real life, love, thoughts, and problems outside the realm of good and evil. She doesn’t have to be saved, or become mannish in order to save. She just has to try to take care of herself, her mother, her friends, her reality.
Despite the unreal things going on in her world, Sarah retains a real-ness not indicative of most final girls. Her life is about much more than battling one evil. Through the documentary lens, we peer at Sarah as she monitors her blood pressure, fights with her mother, and talks on the phone. Sarah builds a network with the film crew, her neighbor Harris, and the local priest. When traditional male authorities fail her, she relies on her burgeoning female friendship with PhD student Mia Medina (Michelle Ang). We have seen these female networks in the past with Sidney and Gale in the Scream films, but I would argue that Sarah Logan moves forward by keeping both feet firmly on the ground. She isn’t perfectly coiffed after her battle, she doesn’t let loose silly one-liners, she doesn’t have perfect aim, and she doesn’t have to double her attacker. Sarah fights a real battle that many of us women fight as we grow older—the complex juggling act of life. She tries to maintain a personal life, manage money, and take care of her ailing mother all while mending her childhood wounds and keeping her head up. That is the picture of true female strength reflected in Sarah Logan, who easily earns my nomination for the positive face of the Final Woman in recent horror history.
[i]For more from Isabel Cristina Pinedo read her 1997 book Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing or for a shorter write up, this website sums up her argument quite nicely among others.