1: THE SISTERHOOD OF NIGHT (2014)
This film looks like it’s gonna be a teen horror, maybe about witches??, and it is indeed about a secret club of high-school girls who meet in the woods to perform mysterious rituals. But this update of “The Crucible” uses wiggy costumes and snappy dialogue, not spells and special effects, to represent the apocalyptic emotions of teenagers. A girl dresses like a “David Bowie bird”; the sun glows, giant against the treeline, that golden edge-of-adulthood sun you’ll never see again. The girls come together to share secrets and cope with the painful family situations they won’t reveal to anyone else. Their club is more “personal with a dash of politics” than personal-political, but even so, this movie is the closest thing I’ve found to what it was like to be in Riot Grrrl. I have some criticisms: The movie repeatedly suggests that some of the girls will be gay, or will reveal experiences of sexual assault, but if memory serves those things don’t happen; that felt like a bait-and-switch or a lost opportunity. But mostly this is a beautiful film about teen girls in the age of Facebook.
It’s honest and touching and melodramatic. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry!
Plus it includes the graffiti, EMILY PARRIS IS A BLOG WHORE. Irresistible, no?
Recommended if you like: The Craft, Ginger Snaps, #horror (which, in spite of its ridiculous name, is a very fun movie).
2: BEYOND THE HILLS (2012)
This movie starts when a young woman arrives at a Romanian women’s monastery where her former best friend is a nun. The two girls grew up together in one of the notorious orphanages of Communist Romania; they protected each other, and in time became lovers, but now Voichita has found a refuge in the monastery and hopes that Alina will make her home there as well. No dice–Alina is an atheist and she’s come to rescue her ex-lover from the clutches of the church.
So begins a genuinely harrowing film based on true events. Seriously, this is a hard movie to watch, as hard as MARTYRS in its own way. The nuns begin to fear the influence of Satan, both on Alina and on the monastery as a whole. Evil portents seem to appear in the natural world, and hysteria begins to take hold. The monastery’s priest dismisses the idea of demonic activity for a while, but eventually the nuns persuade him, too, to see the cloven hoofprints… and then the movie’s real tragedy begins, as the nuns and priest show their willingness to destroy Alina in order to save her from the Devil.
The movie begins at a slow, meditative pace, with long quiet shots showing the hard manual labor of the monastery, then picks up speed; the climax is agonizingly tense.
Recommended if you like: The VVitch, The Exorcist, The Rapture.
3: THE FITS
Another, very different take on “The Crucible.” Toni is an eleven-year-old tomboy, a boxer in training, who becomes enraptured with the girls of the high-school dance team… just as those girls begin to suffer from an inexplicable fainting epidemic. Is it an environmental problem, something in the school’s water? Is it mass hysteria? Is it something beyond the realm of science?
Royal Hightower is amazing as Toni, taciturn and full of longing. THE FITS is gorgeous, and I love how it shows the characters’ physicality: the glitter dusting Toni’s fingertips, the blood on a boxer’s teeth, the tenderness of a newly-pierced earlobe. And its final sequence is genuinely sublime, as the film enters the realm of pure symbolism and dream. This is one of my favorite movies of all time and one of the best blends of realism and fantasy I know.
Recommended if you like: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Paperhouse, The Company of Wolves (or any of Angela Carter‘s writing).
Enjoy! (Or I guess, in the case of BEYOND THE HILLS, Endure!) I’ve written a few books but the most recent is my novel “Punishment: A Love Story,” which you can find HERE.