It’s the spookiest time of the year.
As the leaves begin to fall and the days start getting shorter, now is the perfect time to grab that pumpkin spice latte or warm apple cider, snuggle under the coziest knit blanket, and scare the pants straight off your body.
That’s right, everyone. It’s scary movie season. Halloween is the time of year when the absolute horror fanatics and newbies alike can all band together and bond over the likes of zombies, supernatural beings, and mass murderers alike. Horror films are popular all year round, but one thing I’ve noticed is that, despite its immense popularity among women (it’s said that over half of the audience for horror films—58%, to be exact—are women), female directors in horror are not highlighted as frequently as their male counterparts. In my opinion, that’s a damn shame, since women have been making some absolutely terrifying films in recent years.
Luckily for us, Milwaukee’s Oriental Theatre opened a brand new horror flick just in time for Halloween. Co-directed by Veronika Franz and her collaborator Severin Fiala, this week’s film is the Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy.
What if one day, you woke up to someone you knew and loved started acting strange? What if… the person you were staring at wasn’t really that person? There is nothing more terrifying than looking at someone you think you recognize, only to realize they’re a stranger.
Franz and Fiala play on this idea with Goodnight Mommy. Ten-year-old twins Elias and Lukas are staying in a luxurious and isolated house in the Austrian countryside with their mother while she recovers from an operation. But something is not right. With bandages covering her entire face, save for her eyes and mouth, there’s something a bit off about their mother. As the days go by, her behavior gets stranger and stranger, and these brothers slowly realize that perhaps… she isn’t their mother at all.
Goodnight Mommy doesn’t rely on jump scares to scare its audience; instead, it builds the dread and suspense through slow, meticulous pacing that escalates into a truly frightening climax. No spoilers here, but in the audience on opening night, one woman walked out, claiming she’d had enough and couldn’t handle any more. It’s also been said that at least two people have fainted at screenings around the world. To say more and ruin the surprises that await audiences would be a disservice to the filmmakers. What I will say is this: while not for the faint of heart, Franz and Fiala have crafted a unique experience that will no doubt join the ranks of the other classic horror films as time goes on.
Goodnight Mommy is playing exclusively at the Oriental Theatre on Farwell.
However, if Austrian psychological horror is simply not your cup of tea, it’s understandable. What’s great about the genre these days is that so many talented women have been given the opportunity to make films that have been simultaneously scaring and wowing audiences over the recent years. Here are some highlights to spice up the Halloween party this year:
Honeymoon, dir. Leigh Janiak (2014)
You may recognize actress Rose Leslie from Game of Thrones, but Honeymoon is Ygritte as you’ve never seen her before. On a countryside honeymoon with her husband Paul, Bea sleepwalks into the surrounding woods one night and comes back… a little out of the ordinary. Suspenseful and beautifully shot, Honeymoon is Janiak’s directorial debut, and personally I can’t wait to see how she tops this impressive first feature.
Honeymoon is currently streaming on Netflix.
American Mary, dir. Jen and Sylvia Soska (2012)
Mary Mason (played by scream queen Katharine Isabelle, of Ginger Snaps fame) is a promising med student with the goal of becoming a surgeon. However, she struggles to pay her bills and, as a result, is drawn into the gold mine known as the underground body modification industry. Canadian co-directors (and twins) Jen and Sylvia Soska combine gore and body horror with a feminist twist, making Mary an excellent Halloween choice.
American Mary is currently streaming on Netflix.
Trouble Every Day, dir. Claire Denis (2001)
What do you get when you mix an American couple in Paris with a virus turning people into cannibals? Need I say more? While not as recent as the other picks, Trouble Every Day is just as fascinating and more than deserving of a spot on this list. Denis’s film remains a refreshing take on the genre to this day. Don’t watch it on an empty stomach.
Trouble Every Day is currently available to stream through Amazon Prime. You can also check it out through the UW Library System.
The Babadook, dir. Jennifer Kent (2014)
Australian director Jennifer Kent scared the sh*t out of everyone last year with her terrifying directorial debut The Babadook. Amelia is left grieving the death of her husband with simultaneously raising her extremely troubled young son, who claims that a supernatural presence is haunting the house. With the arrival of a mysterious picture book called Mister Babadook, and the increase of strange noises in the night, Amelia must gain the strength and courage to stand up to… whatever is lurking out there. Kent builds up the tension until it’s unbearable, playing on the fear of the inescapable. If it’s in a word or in a look… you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
If you dare, The Babadook is currently streaming on Netflix.
For those not satisfied with these options and looking for more, I recommend this list by Letterboxd user Lyzette. You can also checkout Alison Nastasi’s list on Flavorwire of 50 Must-See Horror Films directed by women. Happy watching, and whatever you do… don’t look under the bed.