Girls have long been an integral part of horror movies, from Final Girls to girls possessed by demons, so many of the best victims and heroes in horror are little girls or teenage Scream Queens. For part four of my spooky season series, I took a look at horror movies released in the last five years to highlight some of the best and worst girls in contemporary horror. Happy Halloween!
Hereditary (2018) Let’s start with the creepiest, most well-known girl in recent horror. Charlie from Hereditary. This movie messed me up. I was really angry about it until I listened to the Scaredy Cat Horror Show episode about it and Midsommar because I felt so emotionally wrecked by that one scene—you know, that one in the middle. The one. If you’ve seen the movie, you know. If you haven’t and you are going to watch the movie, I’m sorry for what you’re going to feel when you do. Anyway, I think Hereditary has some real flaws as a story. The narrative does not come together very well and I hated the ending—I thought it was cliched and abrupt and not worthy of the tension that the story had built emotionally. Whether you love or hate the movie, however, it is hard to say that Milly Shapiro’s chilling performance as Charlie, an emotionally troubled and grieving young girl, is not part of the suspense and fear audiences feel watching it. Hats off to you, Milly.
The Binding (2020) This Italian horror film focuses on Sofia and her mother who are visiting her mother’s fiance’s family in Southern Italy. Sofia becomes the victim of “the evil eye,” but there’s more of a mystery to the situation than that, as Sofia seems to be paying for the sins of her step-father. The Binding is not a great film, but it is passable for a blustery autumn afternoon. It makes this list because as Sofia, Giulia Patrignani gives a pretty great performance, alternately very sweet and physically overcome by the curse. The emphasis on the connection between mother and daughter is somewhat interesting in this film, as Sofia’s mother, Emma, notes that she is sometimes jealous of the bond that her daughter and her finance share, as though she is getting edged out. Ultimately, a mother’s love is what saves Sofia, predictably.
Nocturne (2020) In this movie, a music student at a fancy arts school finds a creepy notebook that belonged to a dead classmate and gives her the chance to outshine her twin sister. An evil twin movie you say!? Not quite. This movie rests on the tired plot device of a sparkly outgoing sister and a shy mousy sister (i.e. Marcia and Jan Brady) and on the bad things happen at boarding school trope. I enjoyed this movie a lot, actually. Despite the tropes, I liked that the relationship between the sisters was pretty nuanced. Juliet is jealous and it leads to some really bad behavior, but Vivian is not a textbook mean girl, which makes Juliet’s animosity feel unjustified. Even when Vivian is justifiably angry with her sister’s escalating and petty grudge, she supports and loves her. It’s a complicated knot at the heart of a horror movie with some disturbing images.
The Lodge (2019) The Lodge did not, for me, live up to how utterly terrifying it looked like it was going to be. Much like The Turn of the Screw, the action revolves around the question of whether the main character, Grace, a survivor of an extreme cult’s mass suicide led by her father, is being gaslit by her soon-to-be step-children or if something more supernatural is going on. Notable for this list is the portrayal of grief delivered by Lia McHugh as Mia Hall at the beginning of the film, after the girl’s mother commits suicide. I think that grieving children are often the subject of horror stories, but this depiction of grief was startlingly realistic.
Behind the Trees (2019) This movie is really pretty terrible. I almost turned it off, actually, but persevered to get to the scary girl. The plot here is a mixture of an exorcism story and a “she’s a girl so she must be innocent” story gone wrong. Tropes upon tropes. Set in India, the story is about a couple who are on a romantic vacation when they stumble onto an exorcism being conducted on a young girl and save her from it. The woman, Amy, insists that they have saved her life and the silly villagers couldn’t know what’s wrong with her—maybe it’s a mental health problem—but the man, Jay, starts to have terrifying visions and worries that maybe the girl is really possessed. You can guess what happens from there. There are some solid jump scares and really creepy imagery in this one (why are seesaws so scary?), but the story is pretty cliched.
A Quiet Place (2018) John Krasinski made a point of hiring a deaf actress to play Regan Abbott in A Quiet Place. Millicent Simmonds (another Milly!) does an amazing job in the role and helped the cast with their sign language as well. Her big, expressive eyes and often grumpy face do a wonderful job bringing out the emotion of her character’s struggle, particularly in her relationship with her father. That father-daughter relationship delivers some of the film’s most poignant moments and I appreciate that while dealing with the family’s grief, the film stops just short of really getting sappy. Regan is a strong, well-rounded character and I am curious to see what she is up to in the sequel when it comes out.
Veronica (2017) This Spanish horror film grabbed headlines when Netflix released that it was so scary that people kept turning it off before they finished watching it. Based on a true story, Veronica is a possession story, complete with a Ouija board. Don’t play with Ouija boards, kids! This film really is very atmospheric and scary. I’m kind of a baby (I wanted to walk out of The Conjuring, but didn’t because I was sitting between two friends in a packed theater—remember those?), but I was easily able to finish it. I think what is interesting about this story, however, is that for most of the movie, Veronica is both the victim and the protector as she struggles to keep the evil presence that has attached to her from affecting her siblings. Set in a working-class household, Veronica is both sister and a primary caregiver for her younger siblings, which adds a layer of vulnerability to the family when she is possessed.
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) I’m not normally into zombie movies, but this one was unique and I found it pretty engaging. Based on the 2014 novel, the story is about Melanie (Sennia Nanua), an evolved zombie girl who may be the secret ingredient to a vaccine program that seeks to find a cure that can save the human race from a fungal infection that turns people into zombies. This is yet another case of an innocent looking girlchild being much more dangerous than she appears. Melanie, however, is smart and charming and I really loved the twists when the zombie kid bests the scientists and soldiers. I did not love what she did with cats and dogs.
These were the best and worst examples of girls in recent horror movies that I could find. What did I miss? What’s your favorite scary movie? Let me know in the comments below.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of posts to celebrate Halloween. In case you missed them, check out the rest here:
Part 1: Girls on The X-Files
Part 2: Childhood Innocence in Adaptations of The Turn of the Screw
Part 3: Girls on The Twilight Zone