Horror cinema and the case of revenge, beauty and the perfect victim

Recently, everbody has been talking about “Promising Young Woman”, a promising and quite fantastic revenge thriller written and directed by Emerald Fennell and starring the always amazing Carrey Mulligan as a woman traumatized by the past abuse and subsequent suicide of her best friend.

Now, aside from the mainly positive reviews, the movie also made headlines because movie critic Dennis Harvey actually thought and even wrote in a published public review, that Mulligan is not hot enough to be convincing in the role of a femme fatale. Hilarity but also anger ensued because apart from Mulligan being pretty much the poster actress of looking gorgeous, cute and beautiful all at once, it’s astounding that the looks of any female protagonist is still under scrutiny by male critics when – let’s just not name names – the shlobbiest shlobs manage to play every single roll imaginable in every movie genre without anyone blinking an eye.

But here’s where I stumbled, when I looked at “Promising Young Woman” and the long and loving history of thriller and horror movies that feature strong women seeking for revenge: when will unattractive women be permitted to go on their revenge sprees?

Look, the horror genre in itself is unfortunately male-dominated when it comes to production, writing, directing and casting, even though at least half of the main audience is female or non-binary. So, it seems not surprising, that any female protagonist has a certain look. But even in movies that are written and directed by women, the hot protagonist is the one who gets their revenge and I really wonder whether that somehow feeds into the myth of the “perfect victim”, you know, the cognitive dissonance we have, when any victim of abuse and/or trauma is not what we expect, like they were drunk or usually have one-night-stands or are – gasp – not conventionally attractive.

Do we really still need a gorgeous woman telling the story for all women because otherwise, no one would watch it? Is it really necessary to have a beautiful woman pretend to be drunk to be taken advantage of? The answer to both questions is: no, because who the fuck cares how the actress looks when she is our catharsis and honestly, no man cares about looks when it comes to rape. That was one of the main reasons why Harvey got the metaphorical twitter beating that he deserved. But that should also be the main reason to finally give those main roles of revenge horror and thrillers to actresses who are not thin, have full lips, big eyes and just the right symmetry to be also able to play that pixie manic dream girl. Don’t hide behind the old excuses that only pretty women make for good horror and thriller heroines.

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