High Tension’s “Marie”:An Example of Changing Gender Roles in the Modern Horror Film, a guest post by Jenny Spencer

High Tension’s “Marie”:An Example of Changing Gender Roles in the Modern Horror Film, a guest post by Jenny Spencer

I love, love, love guest posts. It gives our readers a chance to find talented writers who don’t write for us on a regular basis but who have voices that should most definitely be heard! Our next guest post comes from Jenny Spencer who spends her free time writing reviews for Italian Film Review. Here’s a brief bio on Jenny:Jenny is a lifelong horror fan. She prefers films from the 70s and 80s, specifically slashers, zombies, and anything Italian. She considers Suspiria to be the greatest horror film ever created and is still plagues by nightmares from watching Demons as a child. When she’s not devoting time to her many cats, she writes for the Italian Film Review blog, concentrating on the genres of giallo and horror.

Now enjoy her post about the transgressive role of Marie in Haute Tension.

I have always been drawn to tough females onscreen, since I grew up as a tomboy and had no real-life examples to identify with. As a child of the 70s, I can promise that women were not encouraged to adapt any qualities beyond the stereotypically feminine. Although there are many examples of tough film heroines, they all still managed to retain those qualities of being physically attractive and feminine. This reinforced the idea that, even if a woman takes up arms and fights, she still must contain some measure of femininity.

Then I heard of a 2003 French slasher film called Haute Tension, released in the U.S. under the title of High Tension. It concerns a pair of female friends, Marie and Alex, who arrive at Alex’s family home in the country to study for exams. After a killer invades the house and murders everyone except the two women, Marie is forced to save her friend, which culminates in a brutal showdown with killer. But things are not as they seem.

Unfortunately, the film contains a controversial plot twist at the end which has managed to divide many viewers and cause some to villify the film. I will refrain from mentioning the details, for those who haven’t seen the film. The only thing to remember is that the onscreen events are merely Marie’s account of what happened, and may or may not have any bearing in reality. What is more important to me than the ending is the role of Marie as a transgressive female, both in her appearance and her sexual orientation.

Most women in horror films are depicted as physically attractive and feminine, whether they are victims or final girls, and always heterosexual. Sometimes they are cast specifically as eye candy for a predominently male audience. That is not to say their importance as strong females should be discounted, but merely that femininity and hetereosexuality are still the valued traits in these characters.

Enter Marie – an attractive yet blatantly butch lesbian with short hair, an athletic build, wearing no make-up, and dressed like a tomboy. She is a rare example of both a lesbian lead character as well as one with masculine qualities. She is not depicted as a sexual object and uses both her intelligence and physical strength equally. She it tough and relentless, no matter what obstacles she is faced with.

Regardless of the twist or how we perceive Marie by the end of the film, it doesn’t negate her importance as being a rare example of both a lesbian who survives and a woman that falls outside of conventional gender roles. She represents the changing aspects of the way female characters are depicted and shows that the modern horror film is indeed evolving to include a truly diverse spectrum in the way women are represented. For this reason, I hope those who dislike the film can appreciate her importance, even though the film ends in a rather disappointing way.


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