Thursday, December 18, 2014


As 2014 winds down and we all reflect on the horror films of the last year, I find myself thinking a lot about spectacular performances in addition to films.  My Top 15 of 2014 is posted over at Icons of Fright, but I wanted to use Day of the Woman to focus on something a little different.  In my opinion, this was an incredibly strong year for female characters in horror.  With audiences rejecting stereotypical and archetypal characters and instead favoring characters with a bit more depth to them, actresses in a majority of the horror films of 2014 were allowed to do more than just get naked and die.  Submitted for your approval, these are my fourteen favorite female horror performances of 2014. 

14) Melanie Papalia in THE DEN
THE DEN is about a woman studying the habits of people who use a "Chat Roulette" like website called "The Den" who witnesses a brutal murder online and is quickly thrown  in a nightmare in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.  Papalia is in every single second on this film, even if she is not the general focus. We as the audience are voyeurs, witnessing Papalia's reactions/motivations/feelings/encounters through a computer screen.  There are moments that feel as if she's looking right at us, and Papalia is in every frame of every second of the film.  Papalia gave an honest and engaging performance that helped prevent this film from being just another throwaway indie film.

13) Allison Egan in HER NAME WAS TORMENT
Allison Egan has become somewhat of an indie darling, appearing in many of the films of director Dustin Mills. An unnamed woman who has a distorted voice and a blurred face in the shown footage was arrested for committing twenty-seven murders, but deemed unfit to stand trial. Oddly, twenty-four of her victims remain unidentified.  It's almost as if, as the psychiatrist interviewing her describes it, "this woman was a ghost killing ghosts."  The psychiatrist interview footage is cut with footage of this woman, usually in some form of undress and wearing a mask, torturing her victims.  Egan is pretty much fully nude in a majority of this film, but it never once feels forced or pornographic.  Her face is never shown, and her real voice is never heard, but Egan still manages to give a strong and captivating performance.

12) Naya Rivera in AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR
I don't know about you, but I love it when a supporting character steals the film.  I've always been a big fan of Naya Rivera's work (SANTANA LOPEZ 4 LYFE), but she really proved her talent as "Vera" in AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR.  She doesn't appear right away, but she completely blew me away.  Her character endures a rollercoaster of emotions, and Rivera performed them all with honesty.

11) Kristi Ray in PIECES OF TALENT
Many disillusioned actresses find themselves in"the opportunity of a lifetime" when they cross paths with an independent filmmaker, but Kristi Ray as "Charlotte" in the indie darling PIECES OF TALENT knocks this character type out of the park.  She delivers a naive innocence that still exists in a post-9/11 world. Her character dreams of something better, and Ray delivers it with an air that feels genuine.  Perhaps most refreshing is that Ray is a true romantic interest, but she doesn't have the over saturated "American Apparel" look that dominates starlets of the box office.

10) Kristina Klebe in PROXY
PROXY is a film that boasts multiple strong performances from female leads, but Kristina Klebe as Anika Barön really nailed what she was given.  Klebe's character was arguably the most stereotypical, but she breathed new life into the "bitter lesbian bully" archetype.  The camera loves Klebe, and I was drawn to her in every moment she was on screen.  Her anger felt pure and her delivery was downright scary at times.  She completely wore her despicability on her sleeve, and her willingness to throw herself into a character so...unlikable and cruel was admirable.  Klebe nailed it.  The other female leads (Alexia Rasmussen and Alexa Havins) were also fantastic to watch, but Klebe (for me) stole the show.

09) Paz de la Huerta in NURSE
I don't know what planet Paz de la Huerta is from, but I want to visit there and come back refreshed and with a new view of the world.  NURSE could easily be excused as a shitty film, but I found it to be hilariously genius.  It walked the line between "campy brilliance" and "bottom-feeder trash," but never fell over to one side.  Whether or not Paz' delivery was intentional is irrelevant, because she was incredible.  The delayed inflection of her voice, the awkward body language, and the huge hair all skyrocketed her into one of the most wonderful female villains in a long while.  I loved it and I loved her.

08) Natalie Jean in THE CEMETERY
Natalie Jean is known in the indie world for her work in Adam Ahlbrandt's films, but she's also an accomplished stunt woman.  She managed to combine both her skills as an actress and her impressive abilities to move her body in Ahlbrandt's flick, THE CEMETERY.  Natalie Jean opens the film as a fully functioning member of society, and despite almost all of the characters being wholly unlikeable, she's the only one that I liked.  Jean is the first to feel the effects of whatever is plaguing this mysterious cemetery, and that's when she really begins to shine.  You actively start to root for her as a villain. The prowess she commands on screen is commendable given she speaks less than 1/4 of her screen time.  Covered in practical effects, she made them work for her and she allowed herself to completely transform into a monster.  In all honesty, I wasn't too hot on this film as a whole, but Natalie Jean's performance made this underground film enjoyable. 

Scarlett Johansson has been smarter and smarter about choosing her roles recently, but her performance in UNDER THE SKIN is perhaps her strongest yet.  She plays an alien stalking men in Scotland, and uses her beautiful human appearance to lure in her prey.  The "siren" story is one that has been done numerous times before, but Johansson's portrayal feels authentically out of this world.  There's definitely a difference between someone acting a character and becoming a character, and Scarlett Johansson definitely became alien in this one.
06) Amy Seimetz in THE SACRAMENT
Amy Seimetz has been one of my favorite performers for quite some time now, and her dedication in THE SACRAMENT is no exception.  She plays "Caroline," our brainwashed point of reference for those living in the commune known as "Eden's Parrish."  Considering the real-life horror roots of THE SACRAMENT, we as the audience quickly realize what is about to take place, and can predict her fate long before it ever happens.  She's such a charming and interesting woman, despite our understanding that she's the catalyst for everything bad that is inevitably coming to our protagonists.  Her final moments are downright devastating to watch and as much as you want to hate her, she's so likeable that you immediately just feel sorry for her.  Seimetz truly is a tour de force.
05) Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK
The success of Jennifer Kent's masterful debut comes in large part from the dynamite performance delivered by Essie Davis as "Amelia."  There is nothing quite as strong as a mother's love for her child, and Davis completely embodied the maternal energy required to make this film as horrifying as possible.  Davis had to be over-worked, tired, obligated, and still showcase a genuine love (and fear) for her child in order for the film to work, and it does.  Mothers aren't always June Cleaver, and Davis presents Amelia the way that most women are...complex.  The relationship Amelia has with her child is one that is impossible for an outsider to truly understand, and her constant conflict between what is expected of her to feel towards her child and what she actually does feel for her child, is painted all over Davis.  Davis has some major acting chops, but her role as Amelia was flawless.

04) Rima Te Wiata HOUSEBOUND
Morgana O'Reilly's "Kylie" may have been the lead, but it was Rima Te Wiata's performance as her mother "Miriam" that really stood out in the New Zealand hit HOUSEBOUND.  Miriam was funny, endearing, chatty, and incredibly sincere.  No matter how awful things get, Miriam always tries to look on the bright side.  It's her incessant positivity contrasting with the cynicism of her millennial daughter that kept this storyline feeling fresh and fun.  I lived for whatever unintentionally funny quip was going to come spewing out of her mouth following some bitter side-comment from her daughter. She's so endearing that she almost blends into the background and that's why she's so good. The character could have easily been played over the top, but that would have dominoed the entire film. As absurd as things get in this film, it all feels completely normal for someone like Miriam.

03) Anna Walton in SOULMATE
Anna Walton is absolutely superb as "Audrey" in Axelle Carolyn's SOULMATE. Tom Wisdom played opposite and while he was giving it his all, Walton completely outshined every other performer in the entire film.  That isn’t to say the secondary characters weren’t any good, but Walton was such a pleasure, it made everyone else look mediocre in comparison.  The opening sequence is particularly grim, but Walton handles the extreme subject matter with ease.  Her turmoil feels genuine and she expresses her pain with a rawness that never once feels forced.  As the mood of the film shifts, Walton's progression feels believable and I was with her every step of the way.

Larson is no stranger to playing creepy old women characters, but she broke new ground with her performance as the titular Deborah Logan.  Wearing minimal makeup and without being covered in computer effects, Larson possibly the most convincing possession victim in horror history.  Her dedication to this character is responsible for almost the entire film's creepiness, and the progression of her Alzheimer's stricken character is something of cinematic beauty.  This very collected woman quickly turns into a monstrous creature and every moment is horrifically haunting.  There's a moment towards the end of the film which is easily the scariest thing I've seen all year, and Larson absolutely dominated the scene.

01) Alex Essoe STARRY EYES
My favorite horror film of 2014 was Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's STARRY EYES and it was due in large part to the stunning performance from Alex Essoe.  Every moment of the film is haunting and harrowing, gorgeous and grotesque, fun and frightening, insightful and irresistible.  Alex Essoe is required to carry the entire film on her shoulders as Sarah, and her ability to shift from vulnerable to vindictive was downright mesmerizing to witness. Sarah is forced to deal with physical demons but the most horrific creatures are the ones that Sarah has residing within herself, that she must face on her own.  The character of Sarah physically and mentally embodies the horrifying and painful lengths that actors are willing to go to secure a place in the limelight, and by doing so, the dedication from actor Alex Essoe guarantees herself a spot as an iconic female horror character. 

4 comment(s):

Kevin F said...

Jill Larson blew my mind in that role. I watched the film on an iPhone while taking the bus and she terrified me.

Joe said...

Saw "Nurse" and she was very good. A few "name" actors had small roles & that was fun. Also, darn if she sounds like Melanie Griffith.

Anyway, the original title was "Nurse 3D," but I saw it on DVD and it was there just "Nurse."

Emily said...

It really has been a great year for horror actresses. I think The Den is super underrated, and Papalia's performance was fabulous.

Also I'm pretty sure The Taking of Deborah Logan ruined my life (but in the best way possible).

Marvin the Macabre said...

Must see these movies! I agree with you about Nurse and Proxy though.

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