Keynote address: What Final Girls Did Next

We are thrilled to announce the title and abstract for our keynote address by Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes to be given at our Women-in-Peril or Final Girls? conference in May!

What Final Girls Did Next: Horror Heroines in the Age of Postfeminism

Horror cinema has consistently been both condemned and celebrated for its gender politics. For journalists and watchdogs, the Snuff (1976) controversy and the rise of rape revenge films was worrying because it problematically eroticised violence against women and combined horror with that other apparently objectifying genre, pornography. Similarly, the return of realistic horror in the early twenty-first century in films like Hostel II (2007) raised concerns about misogyny and the aestheticisation of the torture of women. At the same time film critics have emphasised the reflective and transgressive powers of horror. In the 1980s and 1990s, Linda Williams, Tania Modleski, Carol J. Clover, Barbara Creed and Rhona J. Berenstein showed how horror can capture and channel gender anxieties, and proposed that its identificatory complexities can make it progressive and empowering. More recently, Steven Jones has queried simplistic readings of so-called torture porn, and snuff has been recast as a subgenre more interested in the mediation of death in the age of digital truth than in sexual exploitation (Neil Jackson et al. 2016; Kerekes and Slater 2016).

This plenary seeks to engage with this history by identifying and contextualising the position of contemporary heroines in horror film at a time when feminism appears to be in crisis. I will begin by focusing on antifeminism, postfeminism and the perceived failures and limitations of third-wave feminism in order to establish a revisionist approach that may allow us to reinstate the importance of choice. I will then move on to explore the various paths that women have followed in post-millennial horror, and how these mirror the spectrum of film gender studies more generally. My areas of concern are representation (especially developments in the neo-slasher and the Gothic film), agency (feminist horror and horror directed by women), transnationalism (how horror is allowing for gender-specific enquiries of the role of women outside horror’s main centres of production) and reception (female horror viewers). To emphasise the currency of some of these points, I will centre on films that have been released in the last couple of years, especially A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2015), Crimson Peak (2015), Under the Shadow (2016) and The Witch (2016). My ‘final’ aim is not to homogenise horror into an unequivocal force for good, but rather to demonstrate that it continues to have the capacity to actively question the role and position of women in their respective societies through imaginative exercises which often involve resistance, resilience, assertiveness and the embrace of non-essentialist models of subjectivity.

Bio:

Dr Xavier Aldana Reyes is Senior Lecturer in English Literature and Film at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. He is the author of Spanish Gothic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), Horror Film and Affect (Routledge, 2016) and Body Gothic (UWP, 2014), and the editor of Horror: A Literary History (British Library, 2016) and co-editor of Digital Horror (I.B. Tauris, 2015). Xavier is the chief editor of the University of Wales Press’s forthcoming Horror Studies series.

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