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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 22, 2017

Phoenix Forgotten

Dawn

PG-13                80 mins.             Justin Barber           USA         2017

I loved Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’s The Blair Witch Project when it first came out in 1999, and I’ve remained a staunch fan ever since. That interest has spilled over onto the found-footage subgenre of horror more generally, and I’m willing to forgive a lot (Why is she still filming what’s going on?) to see what  directors can offer in the way of innovation. Sometimes I’ve been pleasantly surprised: Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (Tod Williams, 2010), Willow Creek (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2013), Creep (Patrick Brice, 2014), and The Break-In (Justin Doescher, 2016) are all worthy horror films. I was excited, then, to hear about Phoenix Forgotten, directed by Justin Barber and written by Barber and T. S. Nowlin and released on April 21, 2017. Found-footage horror was at the theater again—and previews looked promising. Phoenix Forgotten seemed self-consciously to recognize its famous 1999 antecedent, with the billboard prominently featuring three missing teens. Could this be the film to re-create what Myrick and Sánchez accomplished almost twenty years ago?

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stalking
Posted on April 17, 2017

Wait Till Helen Comes Review

Elizabeth

TV-14      87 mins.          Dominic James               Canada                2016

Despite themes ranging from suicide to mental illness, Wait Till Helen Comes is ostensibly a horror film geared toward the PG set. Drawing heavily from its source material, Mary Dowling Hahn’s 1986 YA classic of the same name, the film deserves credit for trusting its audience to follow a somewhat complicated narrative structure. While there have been some exceptions, most notably the brilliant Lady in White(1998), horror films marketed toward younger teens have often relied upon jump scares and gross out shock scenes to move the plot. For example, the moment when the witches peel off their human masks in The Witches (1990) or when the maggot covered meat is revealed in Poltergeist (1982). Wait Till Helen Comes does the complete opposite. It is slow moving and picturesque with a sensibility that is more implied horror. And the end result is a very mixed bag. Read more

Posted on April 12, 2017

Bokeh: Purposeless Beauty

Dawn

NR      92 mins.          Geoffrey Orthwein & Andrew Sullivan         USA                2017

Bokeh is a beautiful film, shot on location in a deserted Iceland. It’s worth watching solely for the landscape and the cinematography (by Joe Lindsay), yet there is more than that to Bokeh. Not least, it stars the talented Maika Monroe (The Guest [2014], It Follows [2014]) as well as Matt O’Leary, playing characters who respond in entirely different ways to the cataclysm that strikes them and without whose undeniable abilities the film would have fallen flat, left to depend only on its landscapes.

The film follows a young couple, Jenai and Riley, who are on a dream vacation (Riley’s dream) in Iceland. They wake up one day to find that everyone in the town, indeed seemingly everyone on the planet, is gone. The film is not about the event itself—there’s a flash in the sky and that’s it: the event is not dramatized and it’s not explained. Instead, the film is about what Jenai and Riley do once they’ve discovered that they are utterly alone and far from their home. The power is still on, the Internet is working, they have cell phone service. There are just no humans left besides themselves.

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Posted on March 22, 2017

Devil in the Dark & Eco-Horror

Dawn

2017                Canada                        Tim J. Brown              82 min.

Given the rush of high-profile horror releases in March, 2017 (Get Out, XX, The Belko Experiment, Raw, The Girl with All the Gifts, The Devil’s Candy), you may be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Canadian director Tim J. Brown’s indie film, Devil in the Dark. I hope this review helps spread the word about a genuinely scary, well-crafted, superbly-acted, and provocative indie horror film. It’s on VOD, so you can rent it now (and you should!).

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