Horror and thrillers have had a resurgence of late, particularly with low budget cinema allowing fast creation of modern suspense. For example, Soderbergh’s Unsane, filmed just on an iPhone. And studios like Blumhouse Productions finally balancing the artistic and commercial potential of fear-based cinema.
And with that, a few months ago Variety reported that cult director Edgar Wright’s next film will be a psychological-thriller called ‘Last Night in Soho’ and starring the British-Argentine actress Anya Taylor-Joy. This news drove film buffs into a delightful frenzy. Not only due to anticipation over another project by an adored auteur, but also for his lead being one of the most appreciated young actresses of mainstream Hollywood cinema.
And so we come to the topic of this article: Anya Taylor-Joy’s increasingly terror-stricken filmography.
Taylor-Joy currently has 23 acting credits to her name, with 8 still in production and all her projects applied to a range of genres. However, after briefly looking at her most famous roles they all have something in common: horror and suspense. The Witch, Split, Morgan, Marrowbone, Thoroughbreds (admittedly more so a thriller), and even Fox’s upcoming horror twist for superheroes The New Mutants.
In most of these the talented actress has a key role to the film’s narrative and its use of fear. Which lead to me remembering a past trope of horror cinema: the Scream Queen. More commonly applied to the sexualised damsel-in-distress who endures a narrative’s true horrors, the idea of “scream queens” started as early as the 1920s in silent cinema but was arguably popularised by the 1980s with slasher films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th.
Admittedly she is not consistently romanticised, or even the immediate damsel-in-distress in all of these roles (in some of her horrors she is even the true threat), and yet I’m not the first to suggest that she is now a “Scream Queen”. She clearly has still found specialty within the cinema of suspense and horror, so what’s changed?
Taylor-Joy doesn’t fit the type, yet most of us are still in agreement she does just because she works in “dark” movies? Well actually, as I said at the start, horror has had a resurgence. I believe it has not just returned but entered a new era where our fears and its relation to film are evolving, and perhaps with that so is the scream queen.
Taylor-Joy is leading this generation of mainstream, female-lead horror films and so when we consider female roles in that genre I would suggest that there is a new form of scream queen. A post-scream queen? A neo scream queen? The technical mumbo-jumbo is likely for us all to decide as a culture (or just someone more important than me to really label it), but I’d like you to consider such an idea simply because it has the potential to steer the entire direction of our horror forever. Co-founder of the independent B-movie production company Troma Entertainment, Lloyd Kaufman, once said that in order to be a scream queen “you not only have to be attractive, but you also have to have a big brain. You have to be frightened, you have to be sad, you have to be romantic” and this doesn’t really apply to Taylor-Joy’s filmography (at least not as a consistent character type). The ‘new scream queen’ Taylor-Joy represents can range from a protagonist who grows through their horror to defeat their abuse (Split) or a 1630s daughter haunted by witchcraft (The Witch) or an ordinary girl with murderous thoughts of her step-father (Thoroughbreds) or a terrifying genetically-engineered being (Morgan) and so on. This new era of scream queens no longer only produces the feminine screams and seductiveness of horror, but also develops or challenges them too. To sound even more pretentiously unpoetic: The modern scream queen is now more about being the queen of the horror than she is being the scream.
Or maybe I’m completely wrong. But there is undoubtedly a thread in this actress’s career, a popular one at that, and Wright’s Last Night in Soho truly has the ability to steer what we take away from it all. With his reputation and craftsmanship, Edgar Wright’s latest venture will undeniably be one of the turning points in this perspective and so far there is little information to go on as to the direction of that. Maybe it will define Anya-Taylor Joy’s role as the modern scream queen, or maybe it will dispel the idea all together, or maybe it will encourage the contemporary blend between the psychological-thriller and horror genres, or maybe it won’t do any of that. The real conclusion here is that just as the horror genre is not a one-note tune, neither are the modern roles of women in that genre. Whether they’re a “scream queen” or not, we’re seeing women taking on stronger and more thoroughly crafted roles in Hollywood horror, and not just with Taylor-Joy. For example, last year we saw the return of iconic scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis supporting a more hardened exterior and familial development in David Gordon Green’s Halloween, or even the year before that we saw Jessica Rothe in Landon’s Happy Death Day pushing back for her character’s own survival and is now leading it into a whole franchise. I’m obviously only touching the surface, women in horror is a gigantic and wonderfully complex topic, but if you’re going to take away anything from this ramble consider this: Next time you’re seated at the theatre, ready for horror’s next female lead bloody bonanza, maybe give a little extra thought into what it’s doing for the representation and roles for women. Good or bad, things are changing in horror and so it’s time we all gave it the right attention.
Also, probably go see Last Night in Soho when it comes out because that will most likely be horrifically amazeballs.