Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014
The renaissance of female horror arguably started with the English-born, Iranian-American director Ana Lily Amirpour’s stylishly shot vampire western. A Persian-speaking, skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) preys on men who disrespect women.
Despite being reticent about feminist readings of the film, Amirpour is deliberately political, and her work centres on outcasts who are Othered in some way and trying to figure out their place in the world.
2. The Babadook
Jennifer Kent, 2014
Jennifer Kent’s debut is a feature-length continuation of her 2005 short Monster. The film focuses on an exhausted widow, Amelia (Essie Davis), bringing up her son, crumbling under the pressure and struggling with her own anxiety, as well as the appearance of a terrifying bogeyman.
Kent, who trained and worked as an actor for more than two decades, presents a distinctive and unsettling vision that taps into the deepest anxieties of motherhood.
Leigh Janiak, 2014
A masterclass in what you can do with attention to space, sound design and performances, Leigh Janiak’s directorial debut did not break out in the way that Kent and Amirpour’s did, but it’s an important entry in this breakthrough year for female-authored horror.
Newlyweds Bea and Paul (Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway) find their honeymoon ruined by a series of strange occurrences. Playing with the visual language of sci-fi and body horror, Janiak explored the wrecking-ball effects of a slow-motion break-up long before Ari Aster’s recent Midsommar.
Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2015
Lucile Hadzihalilovic has only made two features – Innocence (2004) and Evolution (2015) – in a film career that stretches back to the late 1980s, but her approach to familiar horror settings (a girls’ boarding school, a cult-like isolated society) is uniquely haunting.
In Evolution, a sickly young boy subjected to strange medical procedures is determined to find out the truth about the island he lives on, which is populated only by women and boys.
Prano Bailey-Bond, 2015
Having already made several successful shorts, Prano Bailey-Bond established herself as a filmmaker to watch with this inventive short film set in 1982, in which a small boy is captivated by the lurid world of VHS horrors. Nasty has a knowing visual language that pays homage to 1980s video nasties, and also nods to imagery from earlier classic horror.
Bailey-Bond is now finishing her debut feature, Censor, set against the backdrop of social hysteria surrounding video nasties.
Julia Ducournau, 2016
A graduate of the prestigious French film school La Fémis, Ducournau’s previous work and her debut feature focus on the horrors of the flesh. In Raw, her protagonist is a young veterinarian student, a life-long vegetarian, who tastes meat for the first time and develops an uncontrollable hunger for human flesh.
Alice Lowe, 2016
Comedian and screenwriter Alice Lowe’s feature debut – which she directed while heavily pregnant – is about a pregnant, recently widowed woman who embarks on a murder spree guided by her unborn child, seeking revenge against everyone she believes to be involved in her partner’s death.
Lowe wrote, directed and stars in the film, and just as she did in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (which she co-wrote with Steve Oram), infuses the horrific images with her characteristically deadpan and jet-black humour.
Anna Biller, 2016
Anna Biller had been making low-budget, arty shorts for years – as well as her debut feature Viva in 2007 – before gaining wider acclaim with her second feature, about a modern-day witch who uses potions to make men fall in love with her. The trouble is, they fall too hard and she eventually has to kill them.
Biller’s background as an artist is apparent in every frame. She designed the sets, props and costumes, creating a stylised world through which to explore witchcraft, feminism and narcissism.
9. Good Manners
Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra, 2017
When Clara takes a job as a housekeeper and nanny for a wealthy, pregnant woman, she discovers that there’s something sinister going on with her employer, including some eerie sleepwalking and an unexplained bloodlust. Fantastical and grotesque, this Brazilian satire, codirected by Juliana Rojas, tackles issues of class and parenting, bending the rules of fairy tales, social dramas and body horror.
10. Black Christmas
Sophia Takal, 2019
In this contemporary take on the 1974 original – one of the first slasher films, and an important one for feminist readings of horror – Sophia Takal teamed up with writer April Wolfe to craft a heavily politicised reimagining of the conventional slasher set-up. The film explores toxic masculinity, sisterhood, political correctness and trauma, and although a little too on-the-nose at times, it taps into aspects of everyday fear with the kind of nuanced understanding that only a woman could really bring to them.
Originally published: 3 October 2020