Home Films Horror movies navigating cannibalism and female desire

Horror movies navigating cannibalism and female desire

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On the occasion of the release of Mimi Cave’s first feature film, Fresh, Alex Denney examines the cinematic links between cannibalism and female desire in the kind of horror


In Costs, Daisy Edgar-Jones encounters a cannibal in the produce section of the supermarket. She doesn’t know he’s a cannibal, of course (“I don’t eat animals,” he tells her, not quite honestly), and one thing leads to another until he finds her. takes me on a weekend in the woods that turns out to be unforgettable For all the wrong reasons.

So does Mimi Cave’s debut feature, a bitingly funny satire on modern dating culture and the spiritual void we’re all trying to fill in our belated capitalist horror show. Throughout the film, we meet Noa (Edgar-Jones), a young woman who is fed up with the guys she meets through her online dating app. So when she meets Steve (Pam and Tommy‘s Sebastian Stan) IRL at the supermarket, the connection seems real. “I’ve met a lot of great people on dating apps, but that’s exhaustingsays Cave of his own experiences in the field. “What he’s doing is he’s setting up this way of meeting people that’s in the same field as what it feels like to be shopping, and I think that’s a dangerous way. to evaluate other individuals. One has the impression of being packaged and sold.

In today’s social media hellscape, it often feels like you’re eating yourself up for the enrichment of a select few. (It’s no surprise that “eating the rich,” a phrase attributed to Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, is a slogan of our times income inequality.) Cave, a conflicted social media user, compares the experience to serving up pieces of yourself for public consumption online: “It’s absolutely like that, because you show the best angles, the most exciting parts of your life. It’s staged to a completely wrong degree because you can’t have good things without bad things. The world exists in opposites, and what’s scary , it’s if the younger generations are starting to believe that’s the reality. I think we’re really robbing people of a full experience.

Cave’s film comes amid a continued surge of interest in cannibal-themed stories on screen, with the resounding success yellow jackets and the next one by Luca Guadagnino bones and all giving weight to a subgenre that also includes Hannibal, Santa Clarita Diet and that of Julia Ducournau Raw. yellow jacketsa survival drama about a group of teenage girls stranded in the desert after a plane crash, was dream by co-creator Ashley Lyle in response to a tweet about a planned gender-reversed remake of lord of the flies: “What are they going to do? Collaborate to death? quips the poster.

In the series’ first episode, Lyle and co-writer Bart Nickerson tease the idea that the girls will eventually turn to cannibalism during their ordeal, an as yet unconfirmed possibility that haunts crash survivors throughout. of their adult life (the series is told partly through flashback). As Costs, yellow jackets is a story of cannibalism centered on female protagonists. But where Cave’s film pits Noa against the appetites of men, yellow jackets explores the darkness that underlies female power dynamics and desire. This is mean girls meets lord of the flieswith cannibalism serving as a metaphor for the taboo nature of female desire – it’s no coincidence that its characters’ sex lives are a major theme in the show’s current segments.

Female characters are central to many stories dealing with cannibalism, including Raw, The neon demon, Santa Clarita Diet and, so as not to forget, Thesilenceofthelambs. (Under the skin is a cannibalistic film in spirit, if not in fact.) Costs contains plenty of beards aimed at toxic masculinity (Noa’s heinous first date in the movie is called Chad, a sly nod to incel culture), and Steve, who seems legit at first, turns out to be more later to be a narcissist with a sense of entitlement just as well developed as Chad. He’s like one of those guys who wears a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt but secretly hates women. “Oh man, I tell people about it all the time,” Cave laughs. “When you meet someone for the first time and they have to tell you they’re a feminist, it’s like I didn’t ask! This kind of thing is very strange.

In bones and all, the Camille DeAngelis novel on which Guadagnino’s new film will be based, a young girl sets out to find her father after discovering his shocking appetite for human flesh, consuming a slew of potential suitors along the way. Set in Reagan’s America, it’s a book about the loneliness of people deemed unbearable by the moral majority – but also another story about female desire and the unwelcome advances of men. In his foreword, DeAngelis reveals another motivation for writing the book: “When people who know I’m vegan hear that I wrote a book about cannibals, they think it’s weird, hilarious, or both. The short version is that I believe the world would be a much safer place if we as individuals and as a society, took a hard and honest look at our practice of eating flesh as well as its environmental and spiritual consequences.

This brings us back to Steve, who doesn’t eat “animals”, and a curious fact about many cannibal stories: they often feature vegetarian and/or vegan characters. In Raw, a vet student from a family of vegetarians develops a taste for human flesh after enduring a bizarre orgy of hazing rituals at her new college. And in yellow jacketsTaissa (Tawny Cypress) goes vegetarian after surviving the accident, while sociopath Missy (Christina Ricci) has a fondness for beef jerky bought at gas stations. Costs, meanwhile, draws parallels between cannibalism and everyday flesh eating with its gratuitous close-ups of characters gulping down their food. Cave is not a vegetarian herself, although she avoids red meat: “I haven’t eaten any since I was little; I don’t think I could eat more without getting sick. Even so, the thought that there’s something vaguely psychotic about our carnivorous ways lingers throughout. Flesh.

“The vegan and the cannibal have a point of agreement – either all meat is unethical or no ethical limits exist, including homo sapiens,” says Desmond Bellamy (aka The cannibal guy), which runs a website decoding cases of cannibalism in the news and in popular culture. “The challenge of meat cannibalism just shows us that we are edible meat animals too.” For Bellamy, meat is a “feminist issue” because in factory farming it is mostly female animals raised as breeding machines before being slaughtered for consumption. It is also, of course, an ecological question, another fact that could explain our fascination with these stories. “Meat consumption increased by 58% between 1998 and 2018, and biologist EO Wilson estimated that for the rest of the world to reach US consumption levels (with current technology), four more planet Earths would be needed,” explains Bellamy. “No wonder humans, who are made of meat, are wondering where this will all end.”

As we move from disaster to disaster, it’s easy to feel the mask of humanity slipping off, like Lecter, to reveal the monster within. According to Bellamy, cannibals reject an anthropocentric view of the world to put forward a radical new idea – that “all animals are equal and equally edible”. We’ll raise a nice glass of Chianti to that.