Monday, February 2, 2015

UNEXPECTEDLY FEMINIST HORROR FILMS: EVERLY (2014)


THERE ARE MILD SPOILERS. IT'S AN ANALYSIS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
 
EVERLY is arguably not a horror film, but because it contains some elements of real-life horror, a ton of kills, a lot of blood, and comes from one of the horror genre's biggest fans, I felt it necessary to include as part of this year's Women In Horror Recognition month blog series.

Promoted as "DIE HARD in a room," director Joe Lynch's thrilling shoot-em-up flick EVERLY would seem on paper to be just another run-of-the-mill misogynist action/horror film.  The story follows the titular Everly, a prostitute who works for a brutal criminal overlord named Taiko.  When it is discovered that Everly is being traitorous (by trying to bring down his organization) he promises that by the end of the night (sometime around Christmas) she will be murdered.  He sends his men to torture, rape, and kill her, but Everly does everything in her power to fight back, and try and make it out alive.  Prostitution, violence, rape, and torture are some of the quickest "go-to" storytelling tactics in a woman-hating film, but EVERLY is unexpectedly an incredibly feminist film.

First of all, EVERLY is pro-women of color (WOC).  Originally, the titular role was supposed to be played by Kate Hudson, but replacing her with Salma Hayek completely changes the racial dynamic amongst the hispanic Everly and the Japanese men that she works for.  Throughout the course of the film, Everly speaks in her native tongue and the men that encounter her celebrate her ethnicity without ever fetishizing her.  We are introduced to a gaggle of other prostitutes; spunky white girls, a "Milf-esque" white woman, a strong independent black woman, and our stereotypical "unique" woman in a colored wig.  All of these women are examples of the archetypal roles given to sex workers, and despite many of them falling under the Western ideal of beauty, Everly is consistently praised for being the most desirable.  However, her desirability is never addressed as being due to her "exoticism," therefore, meaning her Mexican heritage isn't being fetishized.  While this may not have been intentional in the script, the casting decision of Hayek added this layer to the film.  Much like George A. Romeo's casting of Duane Jones in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, picking the best actor for the role offered representation for a minority without making the character token.  This. Is. Important.  It's one thing to write a role specifically for a person of color, but it's something entirely different to have a role that could have been played by anyone, and deliberately casting a person of color.  A study from Martha M. Lauzen in 2013 covering the Top 100 films of the year showed that only 5% of the female roles were played by Latinas.  Joe Lynch casting Salma Hayek as a titular role is not only incredibly smart when selling a film to foreign audiences, but it's also a powerful statement in an industry that barely supplies work for non-Caucasian women.  Not to mention, Everly is played by Salma Hayek...a 48 year old woman.  This. Is. ALSO. Important.  Unlike what Russell Crowe has to say about roles for women over 40, there are plenty of older actresses that are able to play complicated and interesting roles that aren't the ingenue.  EVERLY is not an ingenue, but she is a dynamic and powerful role (with sex appeal) played by a woman that is pushing fifty.
EVERLY is also pro-sisterhood.  For whatever reason, Hollywood has a tendency to believe that once a woman pops a human out of her body, that is officially the only thing she can ever do.  Everly is a complicated woman with an even more complicated past.  However, Everly is still a mother and the women around her respect this.  When we're introduced to the other prostitutes, we see that the sense of camradarie that these women share that is vastly different from the bonds between the male characters.  The women talk to each other like people and support each other to the best of their abilities.  Even when Taiko is doing everything he can to turn these women against each other, they all express remorse for their actions...and showcase a moral code that exists merely because they're "sisters."  Not to mention, the defense and respect these women have for a sense of motherhood.  The men are ruthless and mean in terms of Everly's motherhood, using her daughter as a bargaining chip, while the women draw the line and understand, innocent daughters do not deserve to suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.  On a purely familial level, we also get the opportunity to meet Everly's mother and Everly's daughter.  The bonds of womanhood are tested among 3 generations.  These women switch roles often between protector and protected.  While Everly is our protagonist, she's still someone's child, and we all need our mothers.  There truly isn't another bond like motherhood, and Everly's mother proves this.  The unconditional love is something that cannot be matched or beaten by even the toughest thugs.  It's only fitting that Everly's daughter meets her mother in a bloodbath and is essentially reborn.  Yes, it's a vagina metaphor. Deal with it.

Perhaps what is most surprisingly, is the angle of pro-sex workers in EVERLY.  Before I go any further, I want to specify that "Pro" in this discussion means "not against."  Think of it like being pro-choice.  Pro-choice means "if you have an abortion, you're not a scumbag that deserves to rot in Hell" NOT "we should kill babies for fun."  In the same way, being pro-sex workers doesn't necessarily mean, "everyone should start selling their bodies" but merely, "if you are a sex worker, that doesn't make you a bad person."  On a basic level, the prostitutes are the toughest, because they're all in for themselves vs. the gang mentality of the men.  Before it's discovered that these women are not prostitutes, but victims of human trafficking, they are still never regarded as "sluts," or "whores."  Even those that refer to these women as "whores" are immediately reprimanded and made to look like the bad guys.  Never once are these women "slut-shamed" for their line of work and never are they made to look like they deserve any of the carnage brought to them.  If anything, this film is anti-trafficking and pro-woman because although these women are victims of a heinous situation, the audience is seeing everything through the lens of a woman who herself, is also a victim.  We identify with these women and we empathize with them, anyone that says otherwise is immediately seen as a monster and we crave punishment for what they've done.

There is a big difference between a misogynist film and a film that has misogynist characters.  EVERLY is the latter.  Violence against women does NOT equal misogyny, it's a matter of presentation.  Much like the rape-revenge films of the exploitation era (but without being exploitative), EVERLY sends a message that women are not fragile and delicate flowers that need saving, but rather that the people who believe this to be true, are the ones that will be punished.  It's a pro-female action film with feminist undertones that doesn't pander to its audience, and it points the finger of blame to the responsible villains without ever making our female lead look like she deserves what she's getting.  EVERLY is unexpectedly feminist, and totally kick-ass.

EVERLY is available on VOD services and will be available in theatres soon.  
Joe Lynch and Adam Green's podcast THE MOVIE CRYPT has the exclusive list of dates and theatre locations.

4 comment(s):

Wendell Ottley said...

Somehow, I hadn't heard of this until now. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

TheVern said...

This looks awesome I can't wait to watch this, but sadly it wont get promoted as much as it should be. Glad to see Miss Hayek kicking some ass in this one. Will read more of your review after I see it

Joe said...

Sounds good. The actress also took part in a girl power documentary.

Joe said...

Not to double post, but the film now appears to be in theaters. Rotten Tomatoes suggests many poor reviews, but a few have a similar reaction as yours. Sample:

http://www.laweekly.com/movies/everly-5271471

My local paper gave it 0 stars. Ha.

Related Posts with Thumbnails