La Femme Fatale: An “Inside” Look at the Female Murderer
Recently I asked my co-workers at Lewis University’s Writing Center to indulge me with their response to a question concerning a specific genre of horror film: What physical and psychological features do you think of when you imagine a serial killer from a slasher film? With a few laughs and questions as to why I wanted this information, I received similarly-phrased answers: A creepy psychopathic man shrouded in black, wielding a sharp object (knife, axe, etc.); they also pointed out how the man usually isn’t physically fit, but overpowers his victims easily regardless.
Although these characteristics are undoubtedly very true of the killer in the case of most slasher films, there is one crucial element mentioned that is an interesting point to analyze. The word man is continuously used to describe the gender of a serial killer, but the potential of a woman to be murderous is brought up rarely, if not at all. Fairly recently, French filmmakers brought this possibility to fruition with their creation of the slasher film Inside.
Inside highlights the viciousness of a woman rather than sticking to typical horror conventions, which feature a tall, dark, and mysterious male slasher figure. At the same time that this asserts the fact that women can be frightening, Inside also empowers females to the viewers, showing audiences their potential destructive behavior and their ability to take direct and even fatal action when they are wronged in some way. The stereotypes of a woman being unintelligent, weak, over-emotional, etc. no longer apply in Inside, because all of them could easily be argued against after seeing La Femme, the murderess, at work.
The concept of the “monstrous feminine,” researched and written about in Barbara Creed’s article “The Monstrous Feminine: Stereotyping Against the Grain” brings to film viewers’ attention exactly why women killers can be so frightful. The idea of a woman serial killer is monstrous simply because so many are used to women being victimized or even murdered in films right away. The woman that abandons her domestic and emotionally moral duties in favor of harming another is often unheard of, and as a result, are looked at as abnormal and even inhuman. There are various instances inInside in which La Femme is visually portrayed as monstrous, but the ending scene makes this most noticeable, in which she rocks back and forth in a rocking chair a baby in her arms, both covered in blood. It is both intriguing and ironic that she becomes the monster not because she abandoned her womanly duties, but as she fulfills them in taking care of the child.
While many horror films also portray male antagonists that specifically victimize women as a means of dealing with sexual repression, this is not the case in this French work. In Inside, the main antagonist is, as stated before, awoman who was denied her motherhood (the ultimate result of being sexually active), and takes revenge on the one who caused this to occur. Although visually illustrative and conclusive of women’s stereotypical role as “the monstrous mother,” La Femme is an intelligent woman who uses her cunning to continuously sneak up on and corner her victim, Sarah, in her own home. She also easily evades the males (including law enforcement members) that enter the home to investigate the disturbance. She successfully proves that there is a fine line between one’s gender and getting revenge for a ‘supposed’ wrongdoing. In this way, La Femme may be frightening, but her actions and success in harming others empowers her gender – there are few people, male or female, that would want to come face-to-face with her.
Barbara Creed’s analysis of female menaces in slasher films concludes my discussion very well when she states that, for a long while, “women have questioned the belief that they are more likely to be victims than monsters,” and, as a result, “some have taken great pleasure in seeing themselves as monsters with the power to terrify”.
Keeping the above quote in mind, consider these questions: In your opinion, can a woman make just as clever and strong of a threat as a man in a horror film? Does the gender of the killer in a slasher film really matter? What sort of effect(s) does a male or female killer have on the audience of a horror film? If you were a victim in a slasher flick, which would you feel more confident in escaping from: a male or female murderer?
– Christine Sellin, Art & Design Editor
Editor’s Note: Christine Sellin is a senior undergraduate English major and Film Studies minor at Lewis University and the Art & Design editor for Jet Fuel Review. She enjoys bizarre and psychological literature and film, and is a budding buff of both.