***Trigger Warning for Rape/Sexual Assault***
So, I just finished watching the horror movie Break. This movie was basically written, it seems, by a misogynistic, woman-hating rape fantasist. For those of you not in the know (that should be all of you—don’t ever watch this heap), Break is a movie about four young women who go camping in some woods in Canada and wind up being stalked by some cannibals. Who aren’t even real cannibals, they’re just… rapists. Seriously, no cannibalism is evinced in this movie.
I want to have a serious word with the man who wrote, produced, and directed this film. I mean, you just have a massive problem with women, don’t you? The film purports to be a bit like Deliverance, but where Deliverance spoke volumes about the lengths to which humans will go to survive, Break is merely a series of rape scenes strung loosely together with some terrible dialogue and even worse acting. And here’s the thing, right? I don’t just hate rape scenes because they’re rape scenes. I don’t just hate rape scenes because they’re demeaning or scary. I hate rape scenes because they’re LAZY. In all the films I have watched, I can think of only two in which a rape scene is relevant. One is The Rules of Attraction, which basically opens with a rape scene, the relevance of which is that we gain an insight into Lauren’s flawed character through her thought processes which we hear during the scene. The second is A Clockwork Orange, during which the rape scenes speak volumes about the degeneration of society and violent crime becoming a norm. The trouble is, rape and sexualised violence have now become so normalised in the news and in film that they’re no longer seen as anything other than entertainment.
For example, Eden Lake is a British horror movie in which a woman hunts down and kills some teenagers after they burn her fiancé alive on a pyre. It’s this brilliant premise which obviously evokes Taxi Driver in its revenge killing spree theme, but this is sorely tempered by the ending of the movie, when the woman is lured back to one of these kids’ houses—only to be brutally gang-raped in a dirty toilet by the kid’s father and his friends. And that’s literally how the film ends. The kid isn’t even remotely berated for having COMMITTED MURDER. No, instead, this woman whose entire life has been ruined is ‘taught a lesson’ by being subjected to rape. And it’s almost as if the director went, ‘Well, I don’t know how to satisfactorily end this film so let’s just stick a rape scene in.’ NO! Write a fucking ending!
The horror genre isn’t exactly known for being centred around strong, independent women. Actually, that’s not always been the case. I mean, you’ve got genre classics such as Scream, Alien (although the role of Ripley was originally written for a man), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, all of which, to some extent, promote a feminist point of view. In Scream, Sidney Prescott has to battle her own personal demons while trying to get over her mother’s brutal murder and with her friends dropping dead every five minutes. In Alien, Ellen Ripley is the only survivor of a campaign of terror on board a spaceship in which her comrades are systematically slaughtered. In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Sally Hardesty alone squares up to the monster that is Leatherface and his entire family, and she escapes practically (physically) unscarred. All of these films promote these strong, likeable, and actually quite inspirational women, all of them were written by men, and in not a one of them is there any hint of sexual intimidation, rape, or sexualised violence.*
So what happened? When did rape become the go-to solution for lazy horror writers? Well, it’s basically unclear. I mean, rape scenes have formed part and parcel of the horror genre for years—just look at things like Last House On The Left—but to my mind, the prevalence of sexualised violence against women in film has really stepped up since the turn of the century.
The 2007 film The Girl Next Door, based upon the Jack Ketchum novel of the same name, is one of the sickest, most flesh-crawling depictions of sexual abuse I have ever had the misfortune to see. The most intriguing thing about this film, and the thing that actually makes you watch, is that the rapes—and there are several—are all presided over by a woman, who forces young men to violently rape her niece. But there seems to be no logic behind this, and of course, the niece is—quite literally—branded a whore, and the whole way through, you’re thinking ‘Surely this will stop? Surely a woman would not condone this aimless, disgusting abuse of another woman’s body?’ But it doesn’t. It doesn’t stop. And there’s no story, there’s no point. It’s just rape for the sake of it. For entertainment.
Rape isn’t just limited to the horror genre, either. Let’s not forget films such as Gaspar Noe’s highly controversial Irreversible and the short film collection Destricted as well as The Night Of The Sunflowers and The Great Ecstasy Of Robert Carmichael, all of which depict rape without any blame falling on the rapist. In fact, in the latter film’s case, the (prolonged, disturbingly sinister, and shockingly realistic) rape sequence ends in the victim’s incredibly violent, bloody death. But yet again, you’re not meant to feel for the victim; you’re meant to rejoice at the revenge aspect. Why?
I just don’t understand. Rape must be one of the most terrifying experiences anyone can go through. Incidents of it happen daily, hourly, everywhere. It is one of the most committed crimes in modern society and, unfortunately, one of the least acted-upon. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a modern woman, to constantly dread leaving the house for fear of street harassment, to worry about being called a slut because you put on a short skirt on a hot day, to be unable to be proud of your body because if you are, you’re automatically a whore.
Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming films for the mass nonchalance surrounding rape culture. Blame should lie with the perpetrator of the hatred, the random passerby who thought it’d be appropriate to scream ‘SLUT’ out of his car window, the bloke who grabbed a woman’s crotch in a club and then got offended when challenged because ‘it was just a joke’. But placing scenes of rape and sexualised violence against women in films and promoting these as entertainment only serves to exacerbate the problem. Until society learns to respect and admire women as PEOPLE, rather than objectifying and reducing them to breasts and a vagina, I feel that we cannot move forward. We have made strides as a society, whether technologically or in terms of marriage equality and acceptance of relationships which even forty years ago would have been severely frowned upon—so why this? Why still this insistence on viewing rape as something that’s not important, that isn’t a big deal—so much so that Hollywood needs to use it for entertainment value and ratings? Why?
*A note here: Alien is a film which has caused much debate in terms of sexual imagery. The alien itself can be seen as a massive sexual metaphor: every death caused by the alien in the film is through the act of penetration, and of course, there is that shocking ‘birth’ sequence when the alien bursts forth from John Hurt’s torso, leaving a bloody corpse in its wake. By ‘no hint of sexualised violence’, I was of course making reference to human-on-human contact. For more on this topic, the linked article on ‘The Monstrous Feminine’ (pages 54-58) is superb in its discussion of representations of female sexuality in Alien.