DISCLAIMER: The following essays contain spoilers!
Victim No. 6. 2021. Directed & Written by Nancy Menagh.
Starring Heather Brittain O’Scanlon, Russ Russo, Rachel Farrar, & Craig Mungavin.
Black Dog Pictures / SOS Productions
Not Rated / 22 minutes
Horror / Thriller
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)Nancy Menagh’s Victim No. 6 is devious and horrifically playful, but part of why it’s such an excellently made short film is that Menagh captures the essence of 1975 in New York City—a decade when crime was rampant, a year during which a fiscal crisis gripped the city having a spider web of consequences for the social and political climate of the city and state. There’s a palpable air of terror just beneath the people trying to keep their nightlife alive as we meet Donna (Heather Brittain O’Scanlon), a woman intent not to let the spectre of a serial killer stalking the city spoil a night out. She ends up meeting a man named Mark (Russ Russo) and they go home together. Risky. The tension builds to a breaking point until the truth of the serial killer’s identity is revealed, and it’s more than unexpected.
Victim No. 6 is a subversive serial killer story that pulls the rug out from under its viewer, revealing Donna as the one who’s been terrorising the city, explaining why she’s not too concerned about going out for a drink while other women are hesitant to be out late. What we get, once Menagh reveals the story’s truth, is a great look at the fundamental differences between men and women, in terms of power. I thought it was brilliant how a guy called Bruce (Craig Mungavin) becomes this obvious red herring, using talk of the serial killer and women being found as “bags of sludge” to try chatting Donna up. There are great little moments right up to the reveal, like mention of Mark swooping in with a “chivalrous act,” making us more aware of the gender dynamics at play/how they’re eventually subverted. My favourite part of Menagh’s film is when Donna philosophises about the “many interesting differences between men and women,” telling Mark how men feel safe all the time because men have power, so when that power’s taken away from them they’re extra scared, whereas women are used to feeling powerless. Menagh’s screenplay cleverly skewers male perceptions of women, particularly when Donna’s really rubbing it in and basking in her power over Mark. Before Mark’s subdued he comments on the strong drink Donna poured him, claiming “most women are lightweights.” After he’s subdued he gets taunted when Donna throws gendered rhetoric back in his face: “The men are usually so oblivious to the finer details.”
We don’t often get women as serial killers in film, though the same can be said for real life and I’m glad about the latter. The few we do often fall in line with sexist and misogynistic portrayals of women in fiction. Menagh offers us a treacherous, subtly terrifying female murderer who flips the patriarchal hierarchy of binary opposites on its head with grim delight. Victim No. 6 is one of the very few horrors in which the serial killer is someone you might find yourself supporting.
Dana. 2020. Directed & Written by Lucía Forner Segarra.
Starring Thais Blume, Niko Verona, Vasileois Papatheocharis, & Josean Bengoetxea.
Not Rated / 18 minutes
Drama / Thriller
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)The rape-revenge sub-genre of horror is a miserable one, full of brutal, often misogynistic portrayals of women, forcing us to bear witness to atrocious acts of sexual violence perpetrated against female characters, and only then can we witness the transformative rage of a woman into warrior. That tide is slowly turning in the past few years with films like Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge and Violation. We can count Lucía Forner Segarra’s short film Dana as part of a new wave of films dealing with rape and revenge that don’t follow all the same patriarchal rules of the sub-genre.
Dana follows Dana (Thais Blume), whose attack and near rape after leaving a bar one night changes the course of her life. She kills her attacker, only to later find out he was a known criminal with “59 rapes on his record” who was let out of prison because of legal nonsense. She hears reports on the news from all over Spain about more men like her attacker, committing disgusting sexual violence repeatedly and getting off on the charges. Dana makes a decision to become an avenger for women, hunting down rapists and making sure they get what they deserve.
Although in real life I’m against the death penalty, fictional films where rapists get murdered are just fine by me. Not only that, Dana depicts a number of things in a realistic way rather than turning rape and retaliatory violence into a cartoon. We see Dana go through what are essentially PTSD symptoms after her attack and the murder—because even if someone deserves to be killed their blood on you will likely cause a visceral emotional and potentially physical reaction—like wetting the bed, vomiting, and purposefully isolating herself from the outside world. Though she goes on to kill more rapists she’s clearly struggling with the act of killing. There’s a slight bit of comedic relief as Dana starts to use a face mask to stop from getting rapist blood on her, and she first has trouble putting a rapist’s criminal record on his corpse so she moves onto stapling the paper records to their corpses.
In spite of occasional dark laughs, Segarra’s film explores the struggle of women in a society that doesn’t care about them, the struggle of waking up every single day to a news story about raped and murdered women while knowing the supposed justice system will do little in the way of actual justice for such crimes, let alone attempting to prevent them from continuously occurring. The character of Dana embodies the rage of whole societies full of women, from Spain to China to Canada to Mexico, and on, and on. Sure, I don’t agree with the death penalty, but I also don’t agree with rapists being let go on technicalities or slipping free of charges because they’re rich and white, or rape victims being shamed in public/court. Dana faces the uncomfortable yet realistic fact that something must be done, and if it isn’t going to happen the legal way then it’ll always happen some other way; (y)our choice.
She Whistles. 2021. Directed & Written by Thirza Cuthand.
Starring Sera-Lys McArthur & Aidan Devine.
Fanning Feathers Productions
Not Rated / 12 minutes
★★★★★ (out of ★★★★★)Thirza Cuthand’s She Whistles is a breathtaking, disturbing, and powerful short. This film would be powerful at any point in cinema history. But in Canada right now this film takes on more importance. For those unaware, the bodies of Indigenous children are being dug up all across the country on the grounds of former residential schools, though school is a nice word for prisons used for the purposes of forced internment and cultural/literal genocides. Justin Trudeau, who ran on a platform that involved reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, keeps on doing nothing to actually benefit Indigenous communities. Plus, the many unsolved cases of missing and murdered women, girls, and two spirit people continue to get colder and colder.
She Whistles tells the tale of Stephanie (Sera-Lys McArthur), a queer Indigenous woman headed to her girlfriend’s place in a cab. She has quite an awkward ride full of microaggressions and full-on racism coming from the cab driver (Aidan Devine). She’s hoping the ride will be over soon, but the driver turns off the main road and takes her someplace secluded. Then she finds herself being attacked by the driver and about to be raped. Stephanie calls on her mother—another missing, likely murdered woman—for strength, and receives a supernatural answer, giving her ancestral powers to help fend off her would-be killer.
“You people and your beliefs.”
There are uncomfortable moments in Cuthand’s film, though necessarily so; the topic and the themes surrounding it are difficult yet must be confronted. The film, though obviously deeply Indigenous, is most important for white viewers, who need to be aware of how entrenched violence against Indigenous peoples, and most specifically Indigenous women, is in Canadian society. After Stephanie’s free of the man who almost raped and killed her, she finds a collection of photos the cab driver’s taken over the years. It might as well be a catalogue of faces from all across Canada, of the many missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people whose faces have graced the news. Stephanie’s able to gain a sense of closure in this short, but many Indigenous people like her, in real life, unfortunately don’t get such definitive closure. She’s also able to gain a modicum of revenge, even if it doesn’t bring her mother back. Like the protagonist of Dana, Stephanie embodies the collective rage of women—here, Indigenous women—and directs it at one violent white man representative of so many others out there. It’s also significant that Stephanie calls on her Indigeneity and the nêhiyawak legends of the Northern Lights. It displays the cultural power of Indigenous peoples and their ancestries, positing that as the way Stephanie’s able to save herself. The beauty of She Whistles, amongst the darkness, is a queer Indigenous woman discovering the importance of her own power, the powers of Indigenous women, and the powers of her culture as a whole.