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21 Great Movies Exploring the Unique Horror of Being a Woman

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In a year when the scariest movie is the news, Halloween calls for more than gross-outs, ghouls, and goblins. Instead, give us movies that get at the truly terrifying stuff — like being married, getting pregnant, or walking home alone at night. Turns out for some of us, that’s spooky enough.

Each of these psycho thrillers explores the kind of daily, earthly frights that actually make us howl at the moon and scream into pillows. And by “us,” I mean anyone who sees themselves in these terrified female protagonists. You know who you are, and you may also recognize the monster in the closet, which is so often nothing less than the powers that be, those who refuse to listen, the regime, the water we all drink. This Halloween, the call is very much coming from inside the house, and by “the house,” I mean the patriarchy.

Gaslight (1944)

No better place to start than with the source of “gaslighting.” Ingrid Bergman stars as a swooning, glassy-eyed bride whose new husband (Charles Boyer) tries to convince her she’s going mad in order to get her family jewels. Let the cruel, manipulative shenanigans begin; he does things like give her an heirloom brooch, steal it back, then watch in an “all according to plan” kind of way as she hysterically looks for it. The crime here is not about the brooch, of course (not even about the murder he’s also clearly guilty of); it’s about making a woman distrust her own eyes, ears, mind, and memory — and it’s one of the oldest, cruelest tricks in the book. What makes Gaslight such a touchstone is that it’s so straightforward: to make her doubt herself, he quite literally rearranges the world around her, and you know it’s him the whole time. What makes Gaslight a classic is that Bergman is such a revelation to watch.

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Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

The thing about Alfred Hitchcock is there’s always a little part of you that doesn’t really know “if he did it.” Instead, the Master of Suspense leaves you with much scarier, realer questions like, But would he really betray me? and Who can I trust, if not him? So it is with the aptly named Shadow of a Doubt, in which the villainous Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) not only terrorizes his teenage niece and namesake (Teresa Wright) but also has a virulent, murderous disgust toward old ladies. I mean this guy really hates women! But our young female protagonist, like the rest of her family, positively adores her uncle. Perhaps the scariest, most pertinent question of this underappreciated classic is: How could someone I love so much, who means so much to all of us, commit this violence?

The fact that young Charlie keeps her uncle’s secret is also complicated and prescient, as is Uncle Charlie’s malicious inquiry: “You think you’re the clever little girl who knows something, but you don’t know anything … What would you tell? Who would believe you?” (For another fun tale about a rampant misogynist who kills widows while terrorizing children along the way, please see 1955’s Night of the Hunter.)

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Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

It’s hard to avoid being labeled nuts when you uncover incriminating info that may undermine order — especially when that info is brimming with salty, salacious details that question hetero-dominant norms. That’s what happens in Suddenly, Last Summer when Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) tries to get Catherine Holly (Elizabeth Taylor) lobotomized so she’ll finally shut up about Venable’s son Sebastian, his evident homosexuality, and his (problematic) death at the hands of a pack of lustful vacationers down by “the baths.” Many movies feature ladies “turning psychotic” at the moment a powerful institution or malicious individual realizes they have a lot to lose, but in Suddenly, Last Summer, Hepburn, Taylor, and Tennessee Williams’s script carry out this plot device with thrilling fervor and histrionics. Exhibit A: Hepburn’s piercing delivery of “Doctor! See how she destroys us with her tongue for a hatchet? You’ve got to cut this hideous story out of her brain!”

Rent on Amazon Prime

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Don’t let anyone tell you this psycho horror is a story about a satanic cult. That’s like saying The Wizard of Oz is about tornado safety and Citizen Kane is about a sled. The real crimes against Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) are much more earthly and terrifying than devil worship. She’s a woman made palpably anxious by her pursuit of upper-class domestic bliss and by her narcissist husband (literally named Guy and played by John Cassavetes). And that’s before she’s drugged, wakes up with scratches all over her body, and hears Guy saying, “I didn’t want to miss out.” Her rape results in a pregnancy, during which she becomes increasingly ill, but Guy, her neighbors, and one doctor after another disavow her experience of her own body. The prevailing feeling is that THEY’RE ALL IN ON IT, and it’s an all-too-familiar one.

Perhaps worst of all (worse even than Guy continually dissing her new pixie haircut), Rosemary is berated by hubby and docs alike for reading books to learn more about her condition and for talking to her gal pals about pregnancy (“Pain like that is a warning that something isn’t right,” they say. “You can’t go on suffering like that!”). As in real life, books and friendship prove to be Rosemary’s best weapons in this maddening world, though here they aren’t quite enough to avoid a harrowing diabolical birth scene. The fact that a movie about such distinctly feminine horrors comes from Roman Polanski is conflicting, to say the least, even haunting. That in and of itself is worthy of late-night discussion with your favorite feminists.

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Carrie (1976)

Brian De Palma and menstruation — truly a match made in hell that’s well worth another watch this Halloween. Sissy Spacek’s Carrie is, yes, a teen outcast with telekinetic powers, bad social skills, and a religious yahoo for a mother, but she’s also relatable, likable even. She’s just pissed that nobody ever told her about her period. You know the old adage, Tell a girl the truth and maybe she won’t freak out and bleed all over the locker room. Signs that Carrie is just like us: She sets up a healthy boundary with her mom; she mounts an appropriate defense when she’s suspiciously asked to prom by a total stud; she quite satisfyingly knocks a little monster off his bike for teasing her; and when confronted with the phrase dirty pillows, she replies, “No, Mother, they’re called breasts.” Honestly, I don’t care what the other girls say, Carrie puts on a master class in learning how to own your shit. And against all odds, she finds her way to an ethereal prom night, all blush pink and glitter, with a gentle blond boy showing her how to dance. When she’s crowned onstage, it’s not so much that she’s “made it,” as much as she’s finally just been given a chance to breathe.

Which, of course, makes it all the more heartbreaking when the pig’s blood comes pouring down, and with it, all the old narratives, parental lies, and peers’ cruelties — the very expectations of womanhood — all come back, syrupy and suffocating, to reclaim her. The worst part is the famous climax when Carrie vengefully sets all around her ablaze. This isn’t actually the final scene; instead, for all her teen-girl triumphs, Carrie is punished relentlessly. And that, more than the bloody havoc she wreaks, should haunt us still.

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The Shining (1980)

If Rosemary’s Baby is all about bodily autonomy, then The Shining is all about marriage. What caused the Overlook Hotel’s previous off-season caretaker to murder his family with an axe? “Well,” the hotel manager explains, “it’s what the old-timers might call ‘cabin fever’ — a kind of claustrophobic reaction which can occur when people are shut in together for prolonged periods of time.” Does anyone else hear wedding bells?

The central horror at the heart of this classic really just boils down to Jack Torrance (the maniacal Jack Nicholson) being a colossal dick to his wife, Wendy (the saucer-eyed Shelley Duvall). For signs of the almost commonplace marriage plot here, look no further than the famous staircase scene: Wendy has just found that for all her husband’s self-serious proclamations about his writing, he is in fact a fraud, “a dull boy.” She backs her way up the stairs, swinging a bat in self-defense as he stalks up after her. He yells about whether or not they should take their son to the doctor, then pivots to full-throttle self-pity. “Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future if I would fail to live up to my responsibilities?” he screams. He’s a husband turned monster, driven psychotic by his professional shortcomings and that time he drunkenly broke his son’s shoulder, among other failures of masculinity. Jack would almost be a cliché of a deadbeat alcoholic husband and father if Nicholson’s performance weren’t so totally unhinged. He mocks his wife’s whimpering and, finally nearing the top of the stairs, proclaims in syrupy faux sweetness, “Wendy, darling, light of my life, I’m not going to hurt you … I’m just going to bash your brains in.” Love you too, honey.

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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

When you close your eyes and think of The Silence of the Lambs — as you often do — do you see Hannibal Lecter’s sniveling grin, his chin tilted downward, hair slicked back, pupils staring straight into you, calculating your every move and likely also the taste of your skin? Me too. But just as scary as a maniacal cannibal: workplace harassment! Stay with me.

One of seemingly two women in her training program, FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is summoned by the boss. He has an “interesting errand” for her — to interview Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), the serial killer they most need to talk to but who refuses to cooperate. Why send a student to do what nobody else in the bureau can do? The head of the insane asylum has a theory: “Clever, using you, … a pretty young woman, to turn him on,” he says as he walks Starling to Lecter’s cell. Thus begins her uphill battle to do an impossible job while fending off sexual harassment at every turn. For Lecter’s part, he immediately tells Clarice he can smell her “cunt,” and when an inmate does something even more obscene, he uses Starling’s vulnerability as entreé to her psyche. It’s a no good, very bad workday, and it doesn’t stop there. She is belittled and hit on by every man who has the information or access she needs: the skeevy asylum director, the police, her boss, her fellow FBI agents, and even the nerdy entomologist boys (focus on the moths, guys!). She is constantly put into situations as sexual bait rather than for her skills, then has to prove her right to be there, often endangering herself in the process. And this is just the backdrop to her actual job: searching for Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), whose favorite pastime is skinning women. On every level, Starling’s gender is rendered a liability rather than a nonfactor or an asset to her work. That The Silence of the Lambs barely reckons with this sexism says at least as much about the ’90s as the freaky queer politics and transphobia informing the portrayal of Bill’s criminality.

Stream on Pluto TV

Also see …

For a simmering workplace thriller that may hit closer to home these days, see Kitty Green’s The Assistant (2019), which — amid a grim Weinstein-esque backdrop — features an HR-complaint scene between Julia Garner and Matthew Macfadyen that will make any woman’s skin crawl.

The Stepford Wives (1975, 2004)

“What do you miss most about New York?” a reporter asks Joanna (Katharine Ross) in the original 1975 Stepford Wives. Joanna has just relocated to a Connecticut suburb with her husband and children. “The noise,” she says. “I miss the noise.” Based on the novel of the same name, this cult classic details a woman’s realization that the “perfection” around her isn’t just boring; it’s the result of the local Men’s Association’s nefarious technocratic plot to turn all the women into automatons! So the value of “noise” here isn’t just honking horns and the hubbub of Manhattan; it’s also “the noise to the signal” in a technological sense. It’s messiness, unpredictability, and humanness versus the control, the prototype, and the inflexibility of ideology, gender, and robots. According to the Men’s Association, strict 1950s-style, white, upper-class, domestic femininity is perfection, and anything outside of that is a bug, not a feature. That the women tend to short-circuit inside this system is just a glitch to be worked out. But Joanna and her new BFF, Bobby (Paula Prentiss), are real women. They drink, ask questions, make art, and trade cutting quips. They sweat, fight, and when they’re cut, they bleed. Walter, on the other hand, “hates noise,” says Joanna of her husband (Peter Masterson), who comes to align with the Men’s Association’s values, sealing his wife’s destiny in the process.

The 2004 Stepford Wives blows all this out into a campy joke that’s pretty fun thanks largely to Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, and Glenn Close’s vibrant extremes. But an eerie shadow is cast across the movie, as if in 2004 we thought we were safe to laugh, as if the stakes of the original text no longer applied. The ending of the updated version is nice ’n’ tidy too: A husband stands by his woman, the true villain is rooted out, all is resolved. Phew! It’s as palatable as a lemon-meringue pie and may similarly leave you in a saccharine stupor. A thinking, breathing, messy human woman in 2022 might opt instead for the original’s ending, which insists on not resolving the horror. When Joanna faces her empty-eyed replica — her future in this misogynist, technocratic nightmare — she turns to the men’s leader and asks, “But why?” He answers with a simple, Elon Musk–ian “Because we can.”

Stream 'The Stepford Wives' (1975) on Tubi
Stream 'The Stepford Wives' (2004) on HBO Max

Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

I know you don’t want to spend any more time in the kitchen, but be a good girl and go see Don’t Worry Darling, which takes the basic Stepford premise — a cabal of men doing things to women to create a “perfect” world — but offers some keen updates for a contemporary audience. Among them: The grand technocratic scheme now has a VR component (!), the men are more explicitly motivated by a fear of failing to meet a breadwinning masculine ideal, and the head megalomaniac has a Jordan Peterson–style podcast. But our central couple (Harry Styles and Florence Pugh) drip with sex and charm, and their 1950s domestic setup looks suspiciously like a very cool mid-century-modern Joshua Tree home. What’s not to like? That sounds rhetorical, but Don’t Worry Darling’s contribution to the genre is actually taking that question seriously. Given how difficult the real world is, what’s the genuine cost benefit of living a lie in an ersatz reality? What if the counterfeit life the men are enforcing is more comfortable, wealthier, easier, or happier on some level? What if there’s an abundance of orgasms and cocktails, and the women still get to be funny? Then what do you do when you discover the same old misogynistic values are underpinning the project? “Beauty in control, grace in symmetry, the enemy of progress is chaos” is this town’s motto. It’s the familiar Stepfordian ideal, now with a fascist twist toward uniformity and regimentation. All of this raises the exceedingly pertinent question, What willful ignorance is your comfort trading upon? How much inhumane horror does it take to get another drink around here?

In theaters

Safe (1995)

In this slow creep of a thriller, Carol White (Julianne Moore) is an affluent, 1980s housewife in the San Fernando Valley who’s getting sick and doesn’t know why. It starts out like a classic horror movie, with ominous music accompanying Carol and her husband as they wind their way up a hill at night. But the only monster waiting for them at the top is a clinically clean suburban home, a stale marriage, and bad sex. Maybe that’s it then: Carol is just “allergic” to the boredom and beauty standards for rich white ladies of a certain set (“fruit diet” and hyper-spandexed aerobics class be damned!). But Carol’s symptoms exceed this diagnosis too: She’s suddenly allergic to milk; she has a coughing fit from a truck’s exhaust; she collapses from chemicals at the dry cleaner. With condescending and sexist doctors who are no help at all, Carol investigates Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and heads to a healing retreat center in the desert. But the community’s culty vibes don’t quite make this the happy ending we, or Carol, have been looking for.

In fact, we can never quite pinpoint who or what is to blame for Carol’s illness, and that’s the subtle horror here. What if it’s not just the doctor, or your husband, the pressure to meet strict feminine standards, or a world full of toxic chemicals — but all of it together? What if, instead of a bad guy, you’re trapped in an overwhelming, interlocking system? Then what do you do? Then where do you go?

Rent on Amazon Prime

In the Cut (2003)

Go ahead and disregard the 34 percent Rotten Tomatoes score for this suspense thriller, which has a twist or two that I, for one, didn’t see coming. Someone’s going around decapitating women, and Franny (Meg Ryan) gets entangled in the investigation — as well as with the lead detective (Mark Ruffalo). It’s the hostile, sexually oversaturated atmosphere director Jane Campion creates that’s so compelling here. Women are constantly running from something in the background of this movie, and huge flags (the film takes place post-9/11) drape across buildings as quiet memorials and omens of wars to come. Fear is in the air.

In the Cut takes those age-old questions (Can I trust him? Did he do it?) and applies them to the whole world, so that every character, every street corner, every comment, and most definitely anything sex-related becomes a potential threat. Like in the real world, this is confusing, uncomfortable, and exhausting — which is maybe why some viewers don’t like it. There are also some seriously under-interrogated racial dynamics as well as a cheesy moment or two. What In the Cut gets right, though, is this unrelenting hum of sexualized fear. It’s about meeting your sister for coffee the morning after being mugged, and tearing up when she says, “Oh sweetie,” upon seeing your black eye. And you don’t even make a big deal about the mugging, talking instead about how you don’t really trust the guy you just slept with. And then your mentally ill, stalker ex-boyfriend (here, Kevin Bacon) shows up to the coffee shop with his hairless dog and just stares through the glass, waiting for you to leave. And when you do, and you gently tell him again, “You know I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” he says, “Well I’ll have to think about that,” as if it were an open question, as if your words — and fear — don’t matter.

Rent on Amazon Prime

Teeth (2007)

Come for the coming-of-age story, stay for the grotesque, campy castration sequences. In some tellings of the vagina dentata myth, the toothed genitalia and the woman it belongs to might be construed as villainous. Not so here, where the boys and men are squarely to blame — they go too far, don’t hear “no,” and treat women as either conquest or quite literally like dogs (there’s a rottweiler named “Mother” as well as some unmentionable foreplay with a dog biscuit). I can’t imagine it’s a spoiler to tell you the arc of Teeth takes our female protagonist from virginal nymph to somewhat more self-actualized owner of “teeth … down there!” The deeper, more satisfying arc, though, is that she’s a promise-ring clad, abstinence-preaching girl who finally removes the censorship sticker from her textbook’s female anatomy page, holds a mirror up to herself, makes thorough use of a vibrator, and — in her final smirk — seems to imagine the advantages her vaginal peculiarities might offer.

Stream on Showtime

Black Swan (2010)

Have you ever seen a ballerina break in new toe shoes? It’s a horror unto itself. Following Nina (Natalie Portman) as she vies for preeminence in the New York City ballet world, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan draws out the physical brutality and grotesque pressures of this, the most graceful corner of hell. It’s all cracking joints, bleeding cuticles, rearranging ribs, and secret pukes for Nina. What’s more: The company director (Vincent Cassel) deploys a breathtaking lack of boundaries, the girls’ competition is fierce to the point of debilitating, the aging starlet (Winona Ryder) brims with resentment, and an infantilizing stage mom (Barbara Hershey) grants no mercy. The currency is perfectionism, and everyone trades in it. Add in a desperate fear of getting old and an even more desperate fear of getting fat, and you pretty much have the scene covered — both the ballet world and the expectations of femininity writ large. Nonetheless, Nina ascends to Swan Queen, which offers its own slate of metaphors about an impossible feminine ideal. Nina must play both the white swan (precise, delicate, passive) and the black swan (impassioned, powerful, sexual). In other words: be the virgin and the whor, starve yourself but get a tattoo, nail your pirouettes but do molly with Mila Kunis, and be trained your whole life as a white swan, then suddenly, when summoned by the guy in charge, emerge as the black swan. Sustain all the contradictions of femininity while twirling “effortlessly” on a pinpoint, a single broken, bleeding toe. It’s enough to drive a woman mad.

Stream on Hulu

Also see:

Want more ballet horrors, this time with witches? Thought so. See Suspiria, both the 1977 Italian original and the 2018 remake. Add Starry Eyes (2014) and Neon Demon (2016) for a recent look at Hollywood’s gendered pressure chamber. And don’t sleep on the classics about women absolutely coming undone in the spotlight, among them: Opening Night (1977), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and Sunset Boulevard (1950).

Under the Skin (2013)

Under the Skin is a weirdo, sci-fi, art-film take on a genre I’d like to call “the streetwalker revenge film,” a subset of the feminist revenge film genre that’s just brimming with movies you should see. While these fantasies of female rage and empowerment are thrilling because you finally get to see ladies kick ass while giving zero fucks, Under the Skin does something a little different and therefore belongs on this list. Scarlett Johansson is an alien who lures innocent-ish men into her van, and then into her black tarpit-like lair. Before she can get to snatching dudes, though, she has to undergo a process of feminization — she inhabits ScarJo’s body, gets a fur coat, puts on lipstick for the first time. She flirts. The ostensible horror of the film is the creepy senselessness with which she disposes her male victims, but her arc of becoming a woman is the much more terrifying and compelling horror, as proven by the film’s final act. By then, she’s doing exceedingly human things like going sightseeing with a man, being cared for, and having feelings, and there’s a sense that maybe her narrative will end — like that of all “good” women — in satisfied domestic bliss. But the devastating brutality of the last scene makes her quite literally come apart at the seams, and she looks as if she’s shocked that such violence had found her in her new traditional female role, as if she thought she were above such earthly humiliations and ruin.

Stream on HBO Max

The Babadook (2014)

This movie opens with a child’s voice waking up his mother (“Mom! Mom! Mom!”) and never really stops being about how annoying kids can be — and how hard parenting is. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow and single mom whose 7-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is a chronic under-the-bed-checker who is deeply worried that his mother, like his father, will be taken away. The monster that does eventually come, the Babadook, emerges from a terrifying children’s book and, while Samuel’s petrified nightly, Amelia grows increasingly impatient. Soon though, Amelia too must recognize the horror of the Babadook, which for her results in various failures motherhood: she can’t cook, clean, or sleep enough; she pops pills, makes ice cream for dinner by way of apology, keeps the house dark and the TV on. She says cuttingly mean things just to finally get some peace and quiet.

This is no boring domestic drama though — it’s all extremely scary. Scariest of all, for a while the movie does a brilliant job conflating Samuel’s terrified claims about the Babadook with his extremely normal but deeply annoying demands of his mother (“Look at me! Look at me!”). In this, The Babadook makes its most incisive commentary on the horrific pressures of motherhood: It’s so easy not to listen to your kid and consider the midnight-what’s-in-the-closet fears as foolish instead of versions of our own worst nightmares. But, “the more you deny it, the stronger I get,” says the Babadook.

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Master (2022)

Mariama Diallo does here what I wish every other director of social-commentary thrillers would do: stay focused on real-world terrors rather than having some deus ex machina explain it all away in the third act (It was all a dream! It was aliens all along!). Don’t get me wrong, Master has enough witches, legends, and nesting maggots to satisfy any horror appetite, but it understands that nothing is scarier than racism.

Jasmine (Zoe Renee) starts at an elite New England college the same year Professor Bishop (Regina Hall) has been appointed to the coveted position of “master.” Their parallel horrors as Black women on an exceedingly white campus unfold in keen detail, from the cloyingly “woke” language of white professors (“We really needed your voice at the table today”), to the rampant condescension (“Your family must be so proud!”), to the horde of white teens screaming the N-word along with a song, to the white men’s portraits lining the walls next to the bells that not so long ago called the servants. Not to mention the noose left hanging on a dorm-room door and the cross burning on a lawn. Meanwhile, the school holds up Black women as the face of the future, the great promise of the institution’s “staying relevant,” a relief to anxious white liberalism, a marketing tool. To make matters even worse, amid this cavalcade of racism and sexism Jasmine’s dorm room is cursed! A witch was burned centuries before, and a girl jumped to her death a few decades back. And Bishop’s “master house” is haunted to the max too. As increasingly creepy stuff goes down — ghosts abound, lights cut out, nightmares strike — Bishop starts to see her colleagues for who they really are, while Jasmine digs into researching her room’s curse. What they both discover is nothing short of America’s most horrifying ghost story: the suffering of Black people at the hands of white institutions. Jasmine and Bishop must reckon with this violent past as well as their racist present and the school’s notion of a “diverse” future. When it comes to these contradictory demands on Black women, it is perhaps telling that Diallo’s writing and Renee’s and Hall’s performances are brilliantly on point, natural, and troublingly lived-in.

Stream on Prime Video

Men (2022)

Yes, all men. If the title weren’t enough of a hint that we’ll be dealing in archetypes, we know we’re in for a parable as soon as Harper (Jessie Buckley) arrives at her English countryside getaway, picks a plump red apple, and promptly takes a sensuous bite. Queue “the men,” who arrive one by one to terrorize her on her solo retreat. The innkeeper, the boy, the police officer, the priest, the ex-husband, the creepy naked lurk who lives in the forest — they’re all here, each waging his own little manipulative fear campaign. But Harper “didn’t come here to be afraid!” After her ex-husband’s death — its own manipulative maneuver of sorts — she rented this house to heal. Thus unfolds the film’s central nightmare: What happens when the site reserved for healing becomes haunted?

Men ultimately goes in big for monstrous body horror, but before it does, Harper puts on her Wellies and ventures out for a morning stroll. She descends into a forest where she’s surrounded by green: mosses of your dreams, ferns to write home about. When she comes to an abandoned tunnel, she layers her voice’s echoes in airy harmonies in a reverie of finally being surrounded by a song of self. But a menacing figure appears, as always. Frozen, she calculates her safety, he advances, and she turns and runs, her voice’s echoing melody now the haunting soundtrack that will accompany all the fear to come.

Rent on Amazon Prime

The Invitation (2022)

In this year’s The Invitation (not the 2015 film by the same name), Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) is a struggling artist and waiter living in New York. When a DNA test turns up an enthusiastic British cousin (Hugh Skinner) who invites her to the wedding of the century back in England, she agrees to come and meet her long-lost relatives. With this, Evie steps out of her life and into what is essentially a Downton Abbey episode. She is, of course, summarily wooed by the decadence of it all, especially by her host, a friend of the family and stone-cold fox named Walt (Thomas Doherty). Even ancient great uncle Alfred (Ian Lindsay) is excessively welcoming, which is a little shocking since Evie, who is biracial, “represents the family scandal” of yore. But these old, moneyed white people harbor a dangerous secret, as they so often do.

In its own garish way, The Invitation lays bare the idea that conspiracy, death, and secrecy are always needed to maintain great white wealth. Behind all those Victorian turrets, there’s an insider’s game in which the rules are known only to those in power and are designed to maintain that power. Welcome to colonialism — I mean capitalism, I mean our castle. The footman will take you to your room.

Rent on Amazon Prime

Ready or Not (2019)

Let the games begin. Like The Invitation, this movie is in the newcomer-meets-aristocracy genre, but Ready or Not further literalizes the idea of the “insider game” the protagonist is invited to play. New bride Grace (Samara Weaving) is initiated by her in-laws, a board-game family dynasty, through one wild and murderous night of not-so-friendly competition. Hide-and-seek is the game of choice, and it transforms the family mansion into a battleground — horse stables become a graveyard, the dumbwaiter a guillotine. “The game” here is not only the family business but, as with The Invitation, the rituals and traditions by which the family maintains the status quo, a brutal one at that. The future of the family jewels hinges upon our class-interloper female protagonist. Will she play along or flip the board? What does it look like to beat the ruling class at its own enterprise? As in life and U.S. elections, the women must decide between complicity or burning the whole thing down.

Rent on Amazon Prime

Resurrection (2022)

Fresh from the genre of narcissistic, power-hungry exes coming back to torment their special ladies comes Resurrection, starring a very haunted Rebecca Hall and a wholly new kind of demon in Tim Roth. True to the genre (and to real-life stalker stories), there’s a history of abuse, a woman’s account that the police can’t (or won’t) act on, gaslighting galore, and the unraveling of the female psyche. But somehow, it all feels new here thanks to the uniquely perverse hold that David (Roth’s villain) has on Maggie (Hall’s leading lady).

The problem in abuse stories like this is twofold: Not only does the woman have to learn to trust her own eyes (He’s really back! And following me!), but she then also has to convince everyone else that this is happening, too. Maggie has escaped her aggressor, can finally see through his manipulative tricks, no longer thinks he’s the only one in the world who really understands her, and now just needs the rest of the world to catch up and see the situation for what it really is. #BelieveWomen, ya know? But this invocation gets even tougher when the dudes do such insane shit that it sounds like it couldn’t possibly be true. Which brings to mind another recent movie, The Invisible Man (2020), in which — I can’t imagine it’s a spoiler to say — an actual invisibility suit is integral to the terror campaign wrought against Elisabeth Moss. In these stalker-ex movies, ghosts and abusers aside, the cascading betrayals of not being believed are the deepest threat, yet Resurrection goes further to do something even scarier. This terrifying movie proposes that, for all your progress and for all the ways you’ve finally learned to see clearly, he may still find a way to drive you mad and, worse, may still have the very thing you’re most looking for.

Rent on Amazon Prime

Also See …

For more women battling exes and fighting for their sanity, see Unsane (2018) and Gothika (2003), in which women (Claire Foy and Halle Berry, respectively) are literally locked up in psychiatric wards for reporting male violence with every piece of mounting evidence indicting them as crazy, rather than the men as criminal.

21 Great Movies Exploring the Horror of Being a Woman