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19 Skin-Crawling Body Horror Movies For and About Women

From Julia Ducournau's stomach-churning "Raw" to the cutting satire of the Soskas' "American Mary," these body horror films use gross-out spectacle to make salient points about misogyny, subjection, violence, and womanhood.

Body Horror Movies For and About Women

(Clockwise from bottom left): “The Neon Demon,” “Goodnight Mommy,” “Swallow,” “Men,” and “Titane.”

At the controversial intersection of graphic violence in pop culture and women’s liberation in politics, you’ll find the taboo and too often overlooked subgenre of feminist body horror.

These extreme scary movies wield over-the-top gore and violence like exacting scalpels, peeling away society’s thick skin of deference and niceties (you know, the surface-level subjections too many men regard as pre-requisites for women deserving safety and respect?) to reveal an insidious underbelly of gendered violence, gendered shame, gendered betrayal, gendered hell.

As with other body horror films, these themes can play out on the flesh of the hero, villain, or both. What sets them apart is not who wins and who dies, who suffers and who laughs, who has a penis and who doesn’t, but the emotional and sociopolitical motivations behind the filmmakers’ decision to shock — and even brutalize — their audiences with violent story pieces applied to specific characters. From puberty, sex, assault, and rape to conception, abortion, birth, and motherhood, literal arenas of femininity and womanhood can be used as narrative vaults to consider abstract concepts of cyclical oppression, exploitation, and bias that many women and gender nonconforming people face.

Though a sizable number of entries in this niche category of nightmares are helmed by men (David Cronenberg, his son Brandon Cronenberg, Darren Aronofsky, and Alex Garland make their predictable appearances on the list to come), “Raw” and “Titane” writer-director Julia Ducournau is the category’s reigning scream queen, having won the Palme d’Or for the latter at 2021’s Cannes Film Festival. Ducournau’s films apply a frenetic energy to fear that exquisitely explores sexualized and gendered trauma, while triumphantly pushing feminine characters toward the raging, lustful limits too often reserved for the masculine and villainous.

Alice Lowe, Marina de Van, and Mimi Cave, as well as Jen and Sylvia Soska and more, join Ducournau in this collection of 19 thought-provoking body horror films for and about women. It should go without saying, but proceed with caution: the following titles run through a wide range of sensitive subjects with varying degrees of consideration for audience comfort.

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