Thursday, February 21, 2013

WiHM: Our Favorite Female Roles In Horror, Day 5

Today's two beauties are courtesy of Marie, who is back from the cold grip of death (just kidding) to give us not one but two fine examples of fantastic (and unsettling) performances in horror.

Cécile De France - Haute Tension (2003)

French film Haute Tension - or as we English-speakers know it, High Tension - has become quite a popular and controversially violent film since its release in 2003.

This film put director Alexandre Aja on the road to horror and he has not turned back since, afterwards giving us The Hills Have Eyes remake, Mirrors, Piranha, and the upcoming flick starring Daniel Radcliffe, Horns.

A home invasion film turned psychological thriller, Haute Tension stars Cécile De France as Marie, a young woman who is joining her best friend Alexia (Maïwenn) to visit her family in the country. Marie is quiet and reserved but harbors an obsession for Alexia, who is all but oblivious to it as she chatters on about sleeping with various men.

The two arrive late in the evening, and there isn’t much family fun to be had before terror strikes. A brutish, sexually deranged man breaks into the home and begins slaughtering the family one by one—except for Alexia. “If he wanted to kill you he already would have,” reassures Marie, who has been narrowly eluding the murderer and tries to free Alexia from her chains.

The character of Marie is our protagonist, and she is the only character who is really permitted any development. After all, she is the only one alive, except for Alexia of course, but she is stuck in the back of a truck for most of the film. However, that development doesn’t go in the direction you might expect…

There are, of course, times when we find ourselves attempting to scream through the screen at Marie, but for seeing what she sees she seems to move on quickly and get back to the task at hand—saving Alexia. But honestly, Marie has nerves of steel; she watches every single member of her best friend’s family brutally murdered and still, she does not give up. Even when attempt after attempt to contact the police fails, she carries on.

Actress De France really delivers in this film, and while she might not give us the most likable, sympathetic character, she gives a strong, memorable performance. When Marie is cowering under the bed, keeping her breath sucked in tight until the killer leaves the room, you are holding that breath with her, exhaling, as well, when the coast is clear. When she sees each person mutilated before her very eyes, we feel her sorrow and disgust.

One thing we can’t relate to is Marie’s strange infatuation with Alexia. While her drive to save her friend is admirable, it just doesn’t feel all the way right. It is clear she has a motive to be alone with Alexia, and as the film unfolds we see she might do some disturbing things to get what she wants…

De France brings to life a surprisingly complex character, one that must be examined just underneath the surface. You feel an unease about Marie’s affections in the back of your mind the whole film, and it is that creeping sensation that De France has mastered in her role.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but this movie will shock you. De France’s performance and portrayal of Marie is one to be remembered.

 Eihi Shiina - Audition (1999)

Takashi Miike shocked and revolted the world with his 1999 film Audition. He’s known for his unflinching scenes of violence, having directed Ichi the Killer and one third of the film Three…Extremes. It’s one of those movies you get bullied or dared into watching - but in the end, you will thank yourself, because this film is considered by many horror fans to be a masterpiece.

After seven years of living single, widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi, The Grudge) feels it is time to begin dating again. Given his son’s blessing, he goes along with his film producer friend’s plot to host a mock movie casting to pick a new mate

Out of all of the girls that show up, Shigeharu is instantly enchanted by plain, quiet Asami; a woman made legendary monster by Japanese actress Eihi Shiina. Originally a model, Shiina has also done a dozen films—many of them horror—including Tokyo Gore Police.

Shigeharu gets Asami to fall for him almost immediately, but he quickly realizes that she is not the polite, simple girl that he thought she was. Asami harbours a deadly hobby and a dark, disturbing past, one that has shaped her into the thing she is today.

We, the audience, see all that Shigeharu sees and more. So, while he may realize that all of the references Asami put on her resume are fake, we also realize that she sits endlessly by the phone in an apartment that nearly empty, save for a large bloody sack…that moves.

Asami’s childhood was devastated by a physically and probably sexually abusive man who she later exacts her gruesome revenge on; this trauma has bred in her an insecurity cured only by bloodlust.

Audition is known for its scenes of brutal torture, which last less than ten minutes. What is really disturbing is the way Asami adores torturing men, and the way Eihi Shiina is cute and terrifying at the same time. She has created every man’s girlfriend from hell, and is made memorable by lines like, “Kiri, kiri, kiri…” and of course, her weapon of choice—razor wire.

To play a role like this a person must have real dedication and even bravery. One must make themselves vulnerable to try and understand what kind of person might have this sort of…hobby.

This film has had a record number of walkouts in theatres and audience members have even claimed needing medical attention after viewing the movie. Now that is what I call a powerful performance. I wonder if Shiina is proud of all the terror she has inspired—if she is a true horror girl, I’m sure she is!

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