Over the past few years, there’s been a major uptick in feminist horror movies, from The Witch, to CAM, to Revenge. But 2019 saw the release of two, just a month apart, that took a very literal swing at the patriarchy. Although they were totally different films, certain commentators unfavorably compared Chelsea Stardust’s Satanic Panic and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s Ready Or Not — unfairly, in my view, since it limits their power — because both feature a young woman laying waste to a bunch of rich folks. And yet, in doing so, they missed the key element that ties both together.
I’m referring of course to the moment their protagonists punch little boys square in the face.
In Satanic Panic, Hayley Griffith’s sweet, good-natured Sam hits a child after discovering she was attemptedly drugged by his babysitter. She socks him full in the face and then immediately apologizes for it, uttering a desperate “I’m sorry!” before legging it for her life. Ready Or Not‘s Grace punches the kid who tries to shoot her after she’s already been put through hell (demonstrably, judging by her destroyed wedding dress). However, unlike Sam, Grace feels no remorse for decking the little prick and leaves him there on the ground where he belongs.
These moments are, obviously, played for laughs in both cases, in a couple horror-comedies that masterfully straddle the line between genres, but they speak to a deeper understanding of the current culture. Horror has taken a massive turn towards more female-fronted fare, whether it’s a man or a woman behind the camera, right down to Leigh Whannell’s upcoming #MeToo take on The Invisible Man. Subtlety has gone out the window because, well, women aren’t taking it anymore. We’re done playing nice. Punching sexists in the face is an extension of that attitude.
Neither Sam nor Grace is the typical Final Girl, or at least not as we’ve come to understand her. Sam is a shy pizza girl having a terrible first night, who’s already had to fight off a smarmy would-be rapist before she comes across bratty little boys who gleefully help to put drugs in her Coke. She’s in a hopeless situation because of another man neglecting to tip her. Unlike millions of women around the world, Sam fights back against this injustice and ends up paying for it by becoming cat-nip for a load of Satanists (led by a fiercely feminine Rebecca Romijn, to be fair).
Grace, on the other hand, is supposed to be enjoying the happiest day of her life when suddenly she becomes the mouse in a massive game of cat and mouse with her new in-laws. Grace is at the mercy of a handful of women too, among them Andie Macdowell’s terrifying southerner, but her foil is predominantly male including, devastatingly, her new husband who it turns out hasn’t turned his back on family as much as he’s letting on. Once he realizes Grace has a mind of her own, he’s done pretending and turns on her completely.
The men in Satanic Panic and Ready or Not are predominantly jerks and slimy leches, from Sam’s co-worker to Grace’s new father-in-law, and they pay for their insolence in delightfully gory, horrific ways. It’s worth noting that both movies were written by men, with novelist Grady Hendrix tackling the former and Guy Busick and R. Christopher Murphy the latter, suggesting it’s not just women who are tired of living in a patriarchy. If men are choosing to push these stories, too, particularly while including the onscreen punishment of their sexist brethren, then there’s hope for us all.
Naturally, both movies are incredibly feminist even without the scenes of little boys being punched in the face, and there’s no reason to believe these moments meant anything more to the filmmakers than funny asides. But there’s power in watching a young woman take a swing at the sexist world in which we all live via someone whose brain is still forming and can thus still be pulled back from the brink in time. If either boy had grown up after being forced to face, in a very real way, the consequences of their actions, would he have turned out differently?
See Also: Ready or Not [Frightfest 2019 Review]
Maybe I’m giving these scenes too much credit. They are, if nothing else, entertaining payoffs for strong female characters who have already suffered and will continue to suffer more as the movie goes on. But the coincidence of seeing the same gag in a couple different flicks released just a couple months apart from each other cannot be ignored. There’s very real change happening, even if it’s purely in showing a girl punching a boy for once. And hey, if nothing else, it’s immensely satisfying to watch a misogynist, even a mini one, get laid out for his crimes against women.