Revenge of the female horror filmmaker
Spine-tingling teaser footage for “The Bye Bye Man” has delighted fans of horror with its offering of all the delicious tropes of a great spooky story.
Ahead of its US release on Friday, its trailers have been serving up a bloodcurdling blend of slash, splatter, jump scares, terrified teenagers and a havoc-wreaking ghoul at the center of it all.
But it departs from the average run-of-the-mill ghost story in one significant way — the gender of its director, Stacy Title.
Women flock to horror movies — in greater numbers than men, according to various box office surveys — yet until recently a female director was as rare a sight in the genre as a working cellar light or a cell phone with a signal.
Over the last few years, however, a small but exhilarating new wave of critically-acclaimed breakout hits made by women have subverted expectations about what high quality horror should look like.
From Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” to “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, women are elevating the genre beyond the scope of the traditional male-directed slasher.
The worldwide film industry has churned out many thousands of horror movies since Frenchman Georges Melies directed “Le Manoir Du Diable” (“The Devil’s Castle”) in 1896.
Yet the gender balance remains so out of whack that most user-generated lists of horror films directed by women since the early 20th century on the Internet Movie Database mention fewer than 100.
– Lost generation –
“There’s a lost generation of very talented women that aren’t working because unfortunately, or fortunately for men, it’s a sexist business,” Title told AFP.
Set in 1990s Wisconsin, her movie follows three students who move into an old, off-campus house, where they find themselves preyed on by “The Bye Bye Man,” a malevolent supernatural entity that terrorized unsuspecting victims decades earlier.
The story comes from occult historian Robert Damon Schneck’s 2005 compendium of the spooky and downright weird, “The President’s Vampire: Strange-but-true Tales of the United States of America.”
Schneck claims his story recalls the real-life experiences of a friend in Wisconsin, who told the author about encountering the menacing supernatural being after playing with a Ouija board.
The film boasts established stars like Faye Dunaway and Carrie-Anne Moss, but it is carried by Douglas Smith (“Ouija,” “Terminator Genisys” and “Miss Sloane”) playing an insecure teenage genius who investigates the Bye Bye Man myth.
“I didn’t seek out the movie because there was a female director but it was an interesting angle once I was already interested and in the audition process,” Smith told AFP.
“She was really artistically respectful. She really wanted to rehearse and just have long conversations and get our opinions.”
– ‘Groundedness’ –
The 47-year-old Title started out as an editor and investigative journalist, and was the youngest woman ever nominated for an Oscar for directing a short movie.
She directed Cameron Diaz and Courtney B. Vance in 1996 black comedy “The Last Supper” and cultivated her horror chops directing “Snoop Dogg’s Hood of Horror.”
“I hate to say it, but you close your eyes and imagine the president, it’s a man. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton, you know that she got hit a lot harder than a guy would’ve got hit,” Title told AFP.
“That extends to directing. It’s hard for people to imagine a woman in that job. Aspirationally, for some men, they mentor men. It’s a way of identifying with someone younger, maybe even reliving their earlier life. Women don’t fit into that role either.”
Title was hired by veteran producer Trevor Macy, who has worked on more than a dozen movies including “Safe House,” with Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds, and “Oculus,” directed by horror specialist Mike Flanagan.
“Usually in a successful horror movie it’s about 60/40 female in terms of the audience. And it’s sort of silly that we don’t have more female voices behind the camera,” he told AFP.
“(Title) brings something to the party as a woman, not only being able to speak to that audience in a way that works, but a ferocious groundedness in character that I think is great for making a scary movie relatable.”