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As festival programmer of the 2014 A Night of Horror/Fantastic Planet Film Festival, Dr Dean Bertram highlights an emerging trend amongst the modern horror narrative – the strong female protagonist. The days of the screeching ‘final girl’, destined to survive because of her virtuous nature and moral fortitude, are fading into the anachronistic ether if the films of the 2014 event are any indication. Bertram’s favoured female horror lead could be the Devil’s descendant, an avenging rape victim or a mysterious young newlywed; even the ‘final girl’ archetypes that populate his programme travel unfamiliar and frightening fresh paths. SCREEN-SPACE profiles a selection of the women who carry the torch (and knife and gun and axe…) for their gender in Bertram's modern horror compendium, which starts tonight in Sydney's inner city…

The casting of Scottish actress Rose Leslie (pictured, above) suggested that Bea, the effervescent new wife of Harry Treadaway’s Paul in Leigh Janiak’s tummy-tightening study in paranoia and sexual politics, was going to be no damsel-in-distress. Having established her ballsy, take-no-crap acting credentials as ‘Ygritte’ in Game of Thrones, her transformation in this ‘Stepford Wives-meets-Body Snatchers’ shocker is subtle and disturbing; working from a smarter-than-usual script, she deconstructs gender expectations as they exist in both the real world and the traditional ‘cabin-in-the-woods’ setting of Janiak’s shattering debut. “Her talent and charisma are so natural and authentic,” the director told Under the Radar. “We really walked through every little bit of the script tracing where Bea is, internally, every beat along the way.”
HONEYMOON screens Saturday, November 29. Tickets available here.

When asked how the striking Paulie Rojas (pictured, right) was cast in his fever-dream demonic possession opus Another, multi-hyphenate auteur Jason Bognacki told Grolsch Film Works, “We were looking for someone who looked fragile to the touch but who could transform into a forceful, demonic presence.” Nailed it. As the part-time pharmacy employee whose hellish lineage awakens a potent evil within, Jordyns’ tormented physical and emotional arc makes the sort of acting demands only the horror genre can. Bognacki manipulates his leading lady’s doe-eyed beauty into a fierce, brutal weapon of force; Rojas gives a fearless, forceful rendering of power and passion.
ANOTHER screens Saturday, November 22. Tickets available here.

As the ‘middle part’ of the original Human Centipede, Ashley C Williams didn’t have much scope to create a meaningful female character. The imbalance is redressed in Matthew A Brown’s brutal revenge odyssey, in which Williams’ titular victim emerges from her milquetoast dental hygenist cocoon and carves her way through the douche-bag attackers that drugged and raped her. The director cites Takashi Miike’s Audition as an influence; the Japanese great’s eye for modern noir imagery and niche sexual taboos courses through the veins of his gruesome vision. Not-so-subtle undertones of Sapphic sisterhood are exploited, with Williams locking Australian Tahyna Tozzi in several dark embraces.
JULIA screens Wednesday, November 26. Tickets available here.

Australian-based Canadian director Ursula Dabrowsky plucked first-time actress Sarah Jeavons (pictured, right) from obscurity to play Sam Durelle, a protagonist who morphs from the traditional shrieking ‘final girl’ victim into a fearlessly malevolent force of her own. “She had the look I wanted and I had a gut feeling about her, but I needed to know if she could act,” the director told Festivals’ Launch Pad webpage. “It’s always exciting for a director to cast an unknown and then see them blossom in front of your very eyes.” Jeavon’s bloody, bold Sam embodies the ‘New Feminine Hero’ perhaps better than any other; a pretty, petite blond destined for the meatgrinder in a more conventional work, the actress explodes in a third-act fury of defiance that defines Dabrowsky’s non-conformist take on women in horror.
INNER DEMON screens Friday, November 21. Tickets available here.  

Granted, Audrey Cumming’s feature debut is positively dripping in overplayed horror tropes – the surly babysitter finding her inner warrior while fending off home invaders in a remote mansion (see last years’ You’re Next, for example). But the film has hit big with festival audiences who have responded to Alysa King’s portrayal of the put-upon au pair Kylie, the actress (pictured, right) finding deeper layers and more recognisably human traits in her character just as the film begins to ramp up the tension. King has that ‘everygirl’ essence which has made memorable the great slasher film babysitters of generations past – Carol Kane in When a Stranger Calls; Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil; and, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY screens Thursday, November 27. Tickets available here.

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