6 Great Films About Female Obsession, From ‘Single White Female’ to ‘Heavenly Creatures’

"Ingrid Goes West" puts a timely, social media-savvy spin on girl-on-girl crime, but it's hardly the first of its kind.
Ingrid Goes West
Costume Essentials: Red overalls, a yellow shirt, an iPhone, and a hint of desperation. Why It's a Great Idea: An inspired choice for anyone who wants to spend Halloween with their bestie (and could use an excuse to be on Instagram all night long), the pathologically superficial girls from "Ingrid Goes West" couldn't be better suited to a holiday about pretending to be someone you're not. Just be sure to incessantly document the evening on social media, and don't stop until every single one of your followers knows that you're having the best Halloween ever. #Blessed, indeed.
Courtesy of Sundance

Matt Spicer’s “Ingrid Goes West” doesn’t shy away from its deliciously unhinged protagonist in the slightest, opening the comedy’s action with the eponymous Ingrid (Aubrey Plaza) going full-tilt bonkers on the wedding of someone who initially seems like an old pal who has done her wrong. But Ingrid isn’t getting revenge on a lost friend who has bilked her for other people, she’s actually on hand to ruin the nuptials of someone she mostly knows from social media.

Ingrid eventually moves on (sort of), heading out west to make her way in sunny Los Angeles, where she’s convinced that a highly curated life is the cure for all her ills. What she really wants is someone else to emulate and follow, and she finds that in Insta-famous lifestyle blogger Taylor (Elizabeth Olsen), who makes the woeful mistake of liking one of Ingrid’s targeted posts. It’s the same ol’ story after that.

Beyond all the social media conceits, the movie is classic story of female obsession gone mad — and a worthy entry in a long line of similar films, from “Single White Female” to “Notes on a Scandal,” and plenty in between. Here are 6 more of them.

And because “Ingrid Goes West” doesn’t employ an overtly romantic or sexual angle to Ingrid’s obsession with Taylor, neither does this list, instead opting to curate stories of female obsession that aren’t necessarily rooted in the lusty and profane (those films alone, from “Obsessed” to “Fatal Attraction,” “A Teacher” to “The Crush,” could very easily fuel their own list).

1. “Single White Female”

While Barbet Schroeder’s schlocky 1992 thriller was hardly the first feature to dive into the murkier waters of female obsession, it soon became the sub-genre’s gold standard. Thank the snappy, ready-made slang of its title (amusingly pulled from classified ad parlance) and full-throttle performances from Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda, who both turned their prodigious talents to what could have otherwise been a trashy, throwaway outing. “Single White Female” builds on an everyday situation (gal needs a roommate), ratchets up the tension (hey, this roommate seems a little weird), and pushes everything to bonkers extremes (this roommate wants to kill me and take over my life). The film’s exciting and often explosive fight scenes, including a memorable outing involving both a meat hook and a screwdriver, didn’t skimp, and the emotional turmoil that led to them was both bonkers and genuinely chilling. It’s even good enough to forgive its hilariously bad tagline: “Living with a roommate can be murder.”


2. “Breathe”

Melanie Laurent’s gorgeous, twisted, and confident second directing effort just might be this century’s definitive story of teen obsession, one made with unrelenting care and an abiding cleverness. Laurent’s stars – relative newcomer Joséphine Japy and the luminous Lou de Laâge, playing a pair of fast-friends high schoolers  —  may not be engaged in a sexual relationship, but the instant physical and emotional bond between the pair occasionally dips into some very gray areas, all the better to pack on the well-earned emotion and tension. Trapped in a friendship that slowly spins out into something ugly and abusive, it’s a slow burn tale of teen obsession with some major rewards (and even bigger questions).

3. “The Neon Demon”

Early in the second act of Nicolas Winding Refn’s blood-soaked Hollywood nightmare, seemingly well-meaning Ruby (Jena Malone) gently reminds young model Jesse (Elle Fanning) about the importance of female friendships. “It’s good to have good girls around,” Ruby coos. Jesse nods in agreement, her body and face still glistening with the gold body paint that sleazy-but-famous photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) smeared all over her during a particularly racy photo shoot. It’s a sweet moment. Ruby appears to lean into a maternal role for Jesse, who might need some help navigating her new industry. But soon Jesse balks, firing off a terse comment about not being as helpless as Ruby thinks and stalking away from her apparently concerned friend. Later, Ruby’s words prove prescient, as Refn’s over-the-top (and often very funny) horror film investigates the fallout of female competition, professional jealousy, and what happens when supposed “good girls” are, well, very bad indeed. As Jesse ascends to “it” girl, every woman she meets (from Ruby to her new agent, played by Christina Hendricks, to a pair of fellow models played amusingly by Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote) turns on her, swiftly and completely. It’s a horror film, but one with a canny and obsessive twist.

The Neon Demon

4. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

A forerunner of the form hailed as the creator of the so-called “psycho-biddy” sub-genre, Robert Aldrich’s 1962 thriller manages to cram commentary on all manner of infatuations into one compelling package, from ageism to professional rivalries, Hollywood to arrested development, even a sad ode to dead parakeets. And yet its more enduring obsession is with the broken bond between sisters who are consumed with the idea that only one of them can succeed in a fickle industry. At turns hilarious and horrifying, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford wickedly send up their own rivalry in service to Baby Jane and Blanche, who are both totally bonkers and willing to go to absolutely insane ends, if only if it will land them on top of the other. It’s the kind of story that could only play out between obsessed sisters, but then again, it played out between Davis and Crawford off-screen, too, a classic capper on a tale that only gets better (and more bitter) with age.

5. “Notes on a Scandal”

When the glamorous Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) comes on board as a new art teacher at Barbara Covett’s (Judi Dench) staid London comprehensive school, her arrival shocks the elder teacher into a fit of instant obsession. While Sheba keeps Barbara at a comfortable distance despite Barbara’s attempts to bond, once the elder of the pair discovers Sheba’s scandalous affair with a younger student, Barbara chillingly uses it as the leveraging tool to end all leveraging tools. Based on Zoe Heller’s novel of the same name, the Richard Eyre film unnervingly follows the twisted obsessions that drive its three principal characters — Barbara, Sheba, young student Steven — to wild ends, but it’s Barbara’s compulsions that keep it hurtling along to a wicked, terrible end.

“Heavenly Creatures”

6. “Heavenly Creatures”

While a raw undercurrent of sensuality and unfulfilled desires runs through Peter Jackson’s 1994 fact-based drama, “Heavenly Creatures” ably toes the line between sexual obsession and fraught friendships. The result, however, is nearly the same — no matter the precise nature of Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet’s (Kate Winslet) relationship, the outcome of the story is always one of obsession so profound that it leads to actual bloodshed. Based on the infamous Parker-Hulme murder case that rocked New Zealand in 1954, the film follows the swift, dangerous bond of the slightly awkward Pauline and dazzling new student Juliet all the way through to its horrifying outcome. Fast friends in a way that’s hard to comprehend when you’re not in the throes of teen angst and hormonal rebellion, Pauline and Juliet become so entwined with each other that they literally can’t imagine being apart. When threatened with separation, they lash out in shocking ways, hatching a plan to kill Pauline’s mother and run away, all the better to further their shared dreams and literary aspirations. The fallout from their crime frames up the film’s chilling postscript, which includes one necessary stipulation: They never meet again.

“Ingrid Goes West” hits theaters on Friday, August 11.

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