Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I Am Monster

Directed by: Shannon Lark & Lori Bowen
Horror/Short, 18min
2013, USA

The more I see of feminist horror, the more intriguing it becomes. The discussion on what defines feminist horror is never-ending and there are many definitions of what it actually is… some good, some bad some plain ugly. Like the one that explains feminist horror to be when the female victim / Last girl kills off her assailant(s)! In all honesty I find this kind of unsatisfactory and dumb, almost insulting, because I don’t really see how I’d ever be able to classify movies like I Spit on Your Grave, Friday the 13th, or Swedish exploitation shocker Thriller – they Call Her One Eye as a feminist films. (Or is it?) I know of several films that I’d class as feminist horror, where others would disagree.  I’m not even certain that certain female filmmakers actually make feminist horror. On the other hand Karen Lam’s recent feature, the intriguing Evangeline, is primarily a rape/revenge story with a supernatural twist to it, and Lam is an outspoken feminist filmmaker. The difference is perhaps more in the way that the “events” are portrayed and shown, as the rape and abuse in Evangeline is very suggestive and metaphorical more than down right exploitative. There’s no female moaning, there’s no female nudity, there’s no Scream Queen…  although male moaning, nudity and screaming is featured.

Shannon Lark and Lori Bowen approach the subject of Feminism in genre in a completely different way, and their short film, I Am Monster, makes me even more intrigued with what is being labeled  Feminist Horror!
Vivienne [Shannon Lark] has a secret… a dark profound secret… she loves the dead. Sneaking her way into the morgue, this slick woman in a tight bloodied latex dress that would make Gaga quiver with envy, Vivienne starts to measure up her selection of dead flesh on the slabs in the cold morgue before whipping out a variety of gadgets and gizmos to assist her in her necrophilic sexploration. This is all for her own pleasure and no obstacle is going to stop her from her illicit indulgence. But, then … one of the corpses starts to talk back, forcing Vivienne to reassess her actions, reflect over her life and what she has become… before reaching a bloody gory climax.

Busting taboos and bringing a dark comedic tone to a daring subject matter, I Am Monster holds back on nothing, and Lark gives a daring performance in what I thought was the complete opposite of Feminist genre. I Am Monster is rather graphic without actually being graphic, the age old “tell don’t show” trick used to perfection by H.P. Lovecraft comes to mind, as the mental images that the audience conjure up in their heads will be even more violent, gory, evocative or arousing than anything put on screen. So yeah, Vivienne get’s it off with just about anyone she wants, in any way possible and at the same time this may just be where the feminist angle comes into it. It’s all on Vivienne’s conditions, and perhaps that’s the perfect feminist relationship.
Character development in all its glory, but sometimes character dimension is enough to make a film lift itself above competition. I Am Monster has some great character dimension in Vivienne. If you go into the movie thinking that you are going to get a pretty straightforward character study of what we perceive to be an insane necrophile then you are in for a surprise. There’s no dark childhood trauma behind Vivienne’s selection of lovers, nor is a complex abuse story hidden in there, no loss of innocence at all. Vivienne prefers the company of the dead simply because she doesn’t want to be hurt again. Emotional recognition plays a huge part in what makes us empathize with this naked woman breaking what may be one of the most provocative taboos of all time, as Vivienne has sex with the dead because they allow her to have a no strings attached undemanding relationship without the risk of being hurt! It’s beautiful, emotional and damn right awesome, playing off some kind of collective guilt trip to all who may have been unjust, even if in the most moderate way, in their own relationship… it kind of makes you ask, could I have created a monster too?
Is this collective guilt and emotional recognition part of the key to feminist horror? Even though we only spend a short time with her, Vivienne portrays a wide range of emotions, more than most feature film leading ladies manage to portray full length features time, and in that short span of time she pushes the audience through almost as many emotions too. So perhaps female genre film is all about pushing the right buttons, making us think beyond what is on screen and actually being the protagonist without being victimized or objectified on conventional male terms?

I’d love to see a full feature version of I Am Monster, as Vivienne is a great character that challenges boundaries, triggered emotions and definitely belongs amongst the creepy corpse fiddlers that have come before her. She’s also an intriguing, intimidating and fascinating female fiend, who goes about her deeds accompanied by nothing but her own will and desire.

I’m absolutely certain that Lori Bowen and Shannon Lark are in no way are finished with the character and I’m eagerly wanting to see what and where they go, if they go, with her, as I’m positive that Vivienne is a character with the potential to challenge genre conventions, male dominance and shock tactics, but also pose some serious questions about how, why and what we perceive as female genre film.

I Am Monster is a fantastic piece of genre filmmaking - disturbing, delightful and damned awesome. 

Here's more on Shannon Lark and Lori Bowen, and if you are a female filmmaker, or writer or female whatever working or wanting to work within the horror genre, check out Viscera Film Festival!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome review!!! This film is amazing!!! Just wanted to point out that Lori Bowen's name is misspelled as "Bowden" on the link at the end... :-)

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