While it may be a bit premature to declare Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s “Woodshock” the next big thing in the genre filmmaking space — the secretive psychological drama just dropped its first trailer, after all — the fashion designer sisters look to be moving firmly into the kind of arena typically associated with horror and other so-called genre offerings. The sibling creators of the fashion label Rodarte (watch out, Tom Ford, you’re not the only designer-turned-filmmaker in town anymore) have been working on the Kirsten Dunst-starring film for nearly two years, and an early look at its first trailer hints at a dark, dreamy, and decidedly off-kilter journey into the lauded sub-genre of “Kirsten Dunst goes crazy, but elegantly so.”
Even the film’s official synopsis makes it plain that the film goes beyond genre designations, though it leans hard into words that can’t help but invoke fear, explaining that “Kirsten Dunst stars as Theresa, a haunted young woman spiraling in the wake of profound loss, torn between her fractured emotional state and the reality-altering effects of a potent cannabinoid drug.” It also calls the Mulleavy siblings “a major new voice in film.”
Armed with a big star, an already intriguing marketing campaign, and the creative muscle of distributor A24, “Woodshock” looks poised to launch the Mulleavys into the ever-growing cabal of female filmmakers who bring their talents to the genre space with a decidedly feminine flare (think Sofia Coppola, Karyn Kusama, and Mary Harron). But they’re not the only ones entering the space. Here are seven other female filmmakers bringing their own chops to the genre space in unique and thrilling ways.
Tamblyn’s feature filmmaking debut, “Paint It Black,” shares some tonal similarities to “Woodshock,” blending high drama with dreamy sequences that blur reality in innovative ways. Based on Janet Fitch’s novel of the same name, Tamblyn’s film follows Los Angeles wild child Josie Tyrell (Alia Shawkat in a mind-blowing performance), whose carefree existence is thrown into turmoil when her beloved boyfriend Michael kills himself. Josie’s grieving process is upended by the sudden appearance of Michael’s tough-as-nails mother Meredith (Janet McTeer, hammy and hardcore as ever), whose jealousy over Michael and Josie’s bond extends even beyond his death, in ways both heartbreaking and just plain bonkers. If that sounds Lifetime-y, think again. It’s tough, vicious material that entirely hangs between two tough, vicious women, and it signals Tamblyn’s ability to marry emotion with madness. The film opens later this month.
Better known to audiophiles as St. Vincent, Clark made a big move into the genre filmmaking space with her segment in the recent all-female-directed horror anthology “XX.” Clark wrote her short, “The Birthday Party” alongside fellow genre rising star Roxanne Benjamin (more on her below), but Clark’s got full directing credit on the wicked, wild look into a true suburban nightmare. More outwardly amusing than the other entries in the Sundance-premiering anthology, Clark uses perpetual MVP Melanie Lynskey to the max, casting her as a beleaguered young mother attempting to get her young daughter’s ill-fated birthday party off the ground, a big enough problem made all the worse by the appearance of a dead body (no spoilers). The short is uproariously funny and darkly amusing, and shows off Clark’s knack for taking tricky material in inventive new directions.
Indie producer Benjamin has spent the past couple of years moving into the director’s chair, complete with not one, but two shorts in “XX” (the other, “Don’t Fall,” she both wrote and directed) and another short in the 2015 anthology “Southbound.” It’s clear how much Benjamin loves genre filmmaking, and horror in particular, by the way she’s able to capitalize on conventions and twist them into daring new shapes. “Don’t Fall” takes the “hot pals on a secluded camping trip” to wild new ends, while her collaboration with Clark belies a vicious sense of humor that’s capable of elevating scare-laced outings.
A tasty treat on last year’s festival circuit (including stops at both Cannes and Toronto, no big deal or anything), French filmmaker Ducournau’s feature filmmaking debut “Raw” announced her as one of the most electric new stars in the horror space. The film follows a young student (Garance Marillier) who discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself (and the world) when she heads off to vet school (kind of the perfect setting for a body horror film). Marillier’s Justine is a dedicated vegetarian, so when she’s forced to endure a revolting hazing ritual (one that involves lots of blood and raw liver), she’s shocked to discover just how much she endures the taste of flesh. As Justine’s hunger for consuming meat grows, so does her desire to experience the pleasures of the flesh in different ways. When we spoke with Ducournau at Toronto, she made it clear that she’s just getting started in the genre space, and is next pursuing a story about a female serial killer. Yum.
Kent’s beloved (and appropriately feared) feature directorial debut, “The Babadook,” continues to thrill and chill cinephiles who want their horror to come with a side of emotional commentary and rich character development, and she’s poised to make an even bigger splash with her newest film, “The Nightingale.” Set in 19th century Tasmania, the film returns Kent to female-centric terror, following a young female Irish convict who is forced to watch the murder of both her husband and baby. Hellbent on revenge, she sets off across the country’s wilderness to track down (and presumably, like, totally eff up) the men who destroyed her loved ones and her very life. “The Babadook” got the word out about Kent, and her name has often popped up on lists of potential directors for big blockbusters (including “Captain Marvel”), but she’s stayed dedicated to making the kind of stories that inspire her the most, scares guaranteed.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Like Kent, Amirpour is no newbie to the filmmaking space, but the “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” is still teetering on the cusp of mega-stardom. Her cannibal-covered next feature, “The Bad Batch,” should launch her to the next level accordingly. Featuring an impressive cast that includes both rising stars like model Suki Waterhouse and big-time talents like Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, and Jason Momoa, the festival favorite opens on a post-apocalyptic world run by the baddest of the bad, including a whole mess of cannibals. Ambitious and rich in details, the film shows off Amirpour’s ability to take a twisted situation and make it still more messed up, while never opting for the most obvious decision or motivation.
Long-time actress Lowe had been dreaming about making her directorial debut for nearly a decade before she set to work on her “Prevenge,” a black-as-night horror-comedy in which she also stars. In the feature, Lowe plays the heavily pregnant Ruth, who has recently lost her partner (and the baby’s father) in a seriously weird climbing accident. Ruth isn’t necessarily bent on revenge, but her unborn child sure as hell is, and the expectant mother comes to believe that her little bundle of joy is telling her to take out the people reasonable for the death of the daddy-to-be. It’s funny and sick and weird, just what Lowe was dreaming of. Lowe isn’t resting on her laurels either, and when we spoke to her earlier this year, she was adamant about her determination to keep churning out her own unique brand of horror and humor.