Women in Horror: The Evolution of The Final Girl

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Historically, one of horror’s favorite underdogs has been the scared and naive teenage girl. 

We’ve seen it time and time again in films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” The plots of these movies are almost formulaic— the promiscuous party girl dies first, while the virginal heroine is deemed worthy enough to survive. 

She is the final girl. 

The message women have then been subjected to is the same one echoed constantly in their everyday lives. Women are supposed to be well-behaved and demure. Step out of line and face the consequences. 

Luckily, with the new age and increasingly progressive ideals of our society, a new wave of horror is taking over— one which abandons the sexist narrative policing what makes a woman “good.” 

Here are three films with leading ladies that subvert their genre: 

Jennifer’s Body

One of the earlier films that challenged these ideas is Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer, the titular character played by Megan Fox, is sacrificed by a group of musicians under the wrong assumption that she is a virgin. This leads to Jennifer turning into a man-eating monster. 

Another important character in the film is Needy, Jennifer’s childhood best friend witnessing this transformation. 

Needy and Jennifer are two complete opposites. They represent characters we’ve already seen in traditional horror films with Needy being the innocent and Jennifer the damned. What makes their experience different, however, is that they both meet violent ends. 

At the heart of the film is the realistic message that there’s no correct way to be a woman, either way you can still lose.  

X

The movie X, which premiered on March 18, challenges the age-old final girl trope quite directly. 

Set in the ’70s, the plot centers around a group of actors setting out to make an adult film. The protagonist is Maxine Minx, a burgeoning porn star with hopes of making it big in the industry one day. 

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In traditional horror, Maxine would be one of the main contenders for the first to die. In X, this is not the case. 

The film comments on the stereotypes and double-standards surrounding female desire. It’s also a disturbing portrayal of the way women are taught to envy youth and beauty above all else, and the psychological toll that can take. 

Fresh

“Fresh,” a Hulu original that was released on March 4 of this year, highlights the unique dangers that women face in the world of dating. The story unfolds slowly by following the experiences of Noa, played by Daisy Edgar Jones, as she navigates a new relationship. 

It’s a tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy whisks girl away for a last minute vacation, boy turns out to be a cannibal who wants to sell girl’s meat for a profit. 

Naturally, this course of events wasn’t a one time thing for the antagonist of the story, Steve. While Noa is chained up in Steve’s basement, she forms an unlikely bond with another woman held captive there. 

As this is all going on, Noa’s skeptical best friend Mollie, played by Jonica T. Gibbs, conducts her own investigation into the disappearance of her friend. Unfortunately, Mollie’s recovery efforts lead to her own imprisonment. 

In the end, there’s not one final girl— there’s three. 

Noa plays into the male fantasy purposefully in order to free them, and they all work together to take Steve down once and for all. This film is extremely empowering, shining a light on the strength and importance of female friendship.

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