The 12 Best Horror Movies From This Century That Feature Female Leads

6. The Babadook, 2014, Jennifer Kent

Essie Davis - “The Babadook”

“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!”

“The Babadook” starts with a horror film cliché: a woman loses her husband in a car crash during labour and has to raise their problematic child all by herself.

Clearly, Sam has trouble interacting with other people; he spends his days building weird machines and getting under Amelia’s skin. She is forced to quit her job in order to stay with him and soon they completely isolate from the rest of the world.

One day, by chance, they find a book on Sam’s shelf, “The Babadook”, a weird tale about some kind of boogeyman. Sam is completely absorbed by it, and soon they’ll discover that they can’t get rid of it that easily.

As you can see, the plot is pretty linear, there are just a few main characters and it is almost completely set inside a house. Visual effects are stripped-down and focused on the play of the light and on the creation of the pop-up book. The film is never loud, it never tries to scare with jumps on the seat, it is just subtle and effective. No blood, no vivid colours, just suspense over startle.

What creates tension is Amelia’s attitude, increasingly aggressive and openly scary: she becomes the real monster, threatening her own child.

Sam is creepy and annoying at first, when he builds his weapons against an invisible creature, but then what looked like a childish fixation turns out to be a real threat for him and his mother.

The film focuses on the relationship between a mother and her son after the loss of a beloved person: they pass through pain and suffering, even putting their lives at stake, but they’ll eventually settle down and find a new balance and an almost happy ending.


5. Confessions, 2010, Tetsuya Nakashima

Confessions (2010)

“Confessions” can be placed halfway between a psychological thriller and a proper horror film: even if the storyline revolves around some kind of investigation, its aesthetic and general atmosphere, together with many scenes of brutal violence, help categorising it as a horror.

Teacher Moriguchi announces her resignation to an absent-minded class. Kids just chit-chat to each other and watch their cellphones. Meanwhile Moriguchi tells her terrible story, of her four-year-old daughter found dead in the school swimming pool. Students slowly start to pay attention to her. She knows that her killers are two students of hers, and she reveals that she’s plotting her revenge against them. Unexpectedly, when directly questioned, the two students admit their guilt.

From now on the film follows different paths: a flashback of the events that lead to Manami’s death; private lives of Student A and Student B; Moriguchi’s evil plan. Moriguchi advances her pieces one after the other in the perfect vendetta that will literally destroy their young lives: she threats them with HIV, she pushes them to kill their parents, their friends, and eventually to blow up the entire school, without them even realising the manipulation.

Moriguchi’s revenge is unmitigated and merciless. The two students have to pay for her daughter and they will, by any means. She’s a cold-blooded, plain mad plotter. She has no hesitation when it comes to psychologically torture the two kids, even if they didn’t act on purpose: they’re presented as shallow and irresponsible, but never willingly evil.

Manami was the only thing left from her marriage and she won’t let it go without payback. The whole class is depicted as hollow, superficial and careless; they chuckle and chat through the entire film, whereas the two guilty students fall into resignation, despair and actual panic.

The film draws you in a spiral of revengeful madness and makes you watch while two kids are completely annihilated by a merciless mother. Moriguchi is in complete control, she knows that she’s ruining their lives forever and she is satisfied with it.


4. Martyrs, 2008, Pascal Laugier


Watching “Martyrs” is like watching two different films: the first one is sheer gore, body horror and creepiness; the second one is a long slow torture that leads to a purifying grand finale.

Both storylines work great: physical and slasher violence in the first half prepare the right setting for the psychological one in the second half (even if they never really disappear); when you expect it to rush into a bloodbath it slows down to a long, repetitive torture that increases the sense of discomfort.

The film starts with a girl running down the street, amongst warehouses, covered in blood. She’s rescued and placed in an orphanage, where she bonds with Anna, another young girl who fell victim to abuse, who comforts and supports her.

Years later, when they’re both adults, Lucie, the rescued girl, is still haunted by an horrible vision of a putrescent woman willing to kill her. She has managed to find out the people who imprisoned her as a child, and therefore shot down their whole family. Surrounded by a true carnage, she calls Anna for help and when Anna finds her, she’s still fighting against her hallucinations. Lucie goes into total delirium and Anna is forced to ease her pain in the cruellest way possible.

At this point, the film suddenly becomes something else: a secret society makes its unexpected appearance and the entire pattern finally becomes clear.

The title refers to martyrdom, and that’s what the film really is about: since the beginning of time women went through wicked torments because of their “womanliness”, but this very same weakness made them right to reach total purification from pain.

Continuous suffering ends in radical numbness and physical transcendence, allowing the tortured one to literally know what happens after death.

Martyrs is not an easy film to watch, due to graphic violence and hard-to-bear physical torture. Nevertheless, it perfectly depicts the condition of a woman as the utmost victim.


3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, 2014, Ana Lily Amirpour

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Regarded as the first (and only, for now) Iranian feminist vampire western, it is set in the middle-East despite being shot in California.

In a small town called Bad City, different characters are watched over by a mysterious figure: an handsome young man, his drug-addict father, his pusher, one of his prostitutes and a beggar child, all of them followed by a girl in chador and striped t-shirt.

It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling it. The romantic intercourse between the Girl (that turns out to be a vampire) and Arash (the young man) is delicate and childish in a positive way: they spend their time together almost in silence, gazing into each other’s eyes.

When she runs down the streets on a skateboard, her chador looks as a cape, making her a solitary hero more than a freakish monster. In fact, she always acts according to her rationality: she protects the weak and the innocent and only attacks the bad guys.

She seems to have a peculiar bond with Masuka, a cat that is present throughout the film in every crucial event. You can almost say that she can see though its eyes.

The film is a pleasant blend of Jarmush aesthetic ( minimalistic black & white, and stylish vampires) and “Let the Right One In” suggestions: in addition to this, the film carries a strong feminist message against a misogynist society.


2. A Tale of Two Sisters, 2003, Kim Jee-woon


“A Tale of Two Sisters” is rightfully one of the most appreciated Korean horror films of all time.

Two sisters are released from a psychiatric ward after their mother’s death. In the meantime, their father re-married ad their step-mother makes every effort to be accepted by them, or at least she wants to tame them in order to keep her husband quiet.

It’s impossible to present the plot without spoiling it. In spite of being extremely slow and measured,full of long and tense scenes, the whole film relies upon a couple of coups de théâtre that link the whole plot. It’s a traditional ghost story narrated through thriller devices.

The kids are nothing less than creepy: their bond is strong and almost telepathic; they’re in touch with a presence haunting the house and seem to influence it in order to scare their step-mother.

The woman has all the features of a step-mother from a fairytale: she’s greedy and possessive with her man; the girls are just standing in her way to stop her from having total supremacy over her husband. On the other hand, the father doesn’t seem to notice what is happening inside his house, he just hopes for his women to reconcile and live happily.


1. The Lords of Salem, 2012, Rob Zombie

The Lords of Salem

As Zombie himself said, “The Lords of Salem” is like “what if Ken Russell directed The Shining”.

You can say these are not the only influences in this film: in fact, it may be seen as a gigantic Frankenstein’s monster made of every horror film from the ’30s until now. This can be interpreted as a massive weakness or as an important tribute, resulting in a great piece of art. The first place in this list answers for itself.

Heidi is a DJ at a local radio station in Salem. One day she’s sent a gift, a box containing a record from “The Lord”. She plays the LP on the radio and she starts to feel weird.

From this moment on, the film is a full sequence of tripping hallucinations and vague flashbacks. She takes part to a Sabbath, she’s kidnapped by masked figures, she attends at a witch trial. Eventually, she’ll bear Satan’s child.

“Rosemary’s Baby” meets “Black Sunday”: her lady-fellow tenants are actually descendants of the original witches of Salem, called “Lords”; they are “Satan whores”, and Heidi is their means to bring the Lords back to Earth. In fact, during a flashback, we attend the Salem witch trial, during the stake: Margaret Morgan, the leader of the Lords, curses one of the inquisitors, John Hawtorne, saying that Lords would have come back from his offspring. Heidi is, of course, part of his progeny.

“The Lords of Salem” is a prime example of the supremacy of the female over the male. Male characters just surround the primary plot and, though helpful in some way, are never able to arrest the power of the Lords. Even semantically, “Lords” referred to a different gender symbolises their “male” strength. Evilness makes them powerful and unstoppable. Primordial energies convey into the offspring of Satan, conceived through female flesh.

Author Bio: Caterina Frezza is a university student in Italian language and literature. Favourite quote: We are not girls. We are silver bullets for your middle-class brains!