Meet The Final Girls, the feminist film collective changing the horror scene
We speak to The Final Girls, the all-female feminist collective celebrating horror and creating a platform for female horror directors to get their films seen on the big screen
Olivia Howe and Anna Bogutskaya were working in the same office when they bonded over their shared love of horror films. They loved the communal experience of watching horror, but felt that movies about the female experience were being wrongfully sidelined. Seeing a gap in the horror scene for a women-inclusive space, they formed a film collective that would reappraise those films for a new audience. Over just a few text messages, they had decided on their first event – a screening of Claire Denis’s Trouble Every Day – and the name of their collective: The Final Girls.
They continue on an upwards trajectory, hosting events in London and across the UK, including a Jamie Lee Curtis all-nighter and a celebration of Carrie’s 40th anniversary. Their latest project is the second edition of We Are The Weirdos, a curated programme of short films which have been playing to sold out screenings around the country. They’re at the tail end of the tour when we meet on their Glasgow Film Festival stop to chat about the programme.
Over nine shorts, We Are The Weirdos traverses genres and mediums, redefining what horror can be. Some are comedic, some are experimental, some confront social issues, but they are connected in that they are all directed by emerging female filmmakers. The programme is ultimately a platform for women who haven’t had the chance to showcase their work on this scale before. “The biggest goal is that the filmmakers get something out of it, like opportunities or the chance to connect with other people,” says Bogutskaya. “It’s a much more curated version of a festival, because at a festival they will get lost. Even though it’s a great experience for any filmmaker, you’re one of 200 films whereas here, you’re one of nine, and it’s a very specific proposition. It’s an industry showcase as much as it is a fun time at the cinema to see some pretty cracking short films.”
Inclusivity and accessibility is a priority for the collective. They’re aware that the scene has notoriously excluded women, and they see their screenings as an entry point into the genre. They create experiences beyond the film itself by introducing screenings themselves and providing specially-made zines to change the discussion for a new crowd of feminist horror fans.
‘Horror isn’t just gore and guts, there’s a much deeper level to it’
“One of our mantras is we don’t want to necessarily draw the traditional horror audience,” Howe says. “We are trying to reappraise repertory cinema but also make it accessible for everyone. We often meet people who are like, ‘I don’t really like horror films, but I came to your screening of Carrie because you were talking about in this way and that’s really interesting.' That, for me, is the most fulfilling thing about The Final Girls: being that point of entry for people into that genre. You can reveal that the genre isn’t just gore and guts, there’s a much deeper level to it.”
This goal of accessibility extends to not only the screenings themselves but also in the curating process. For We Are The Weirdos, The Final Girls opened up submissions for free, which resulted in a lengthy process of narrowing down 1500 shorts to the final nine. “It’s ethical but stupid,” says Bogutskaya. While trawling through the submissions, they also research what's playing at festivals. It's a daunting task.
They found themselves championing certain films that would eventually make it into Weirdos. Howe’s was Inseyed, a bonkers two-minute animation with a hell of a twist. “I watched it at work, and I was sitting and went ‘Holy fuck! Who’s this?’” she says. “That for me was one that had to be in there, as this real shocking two minutes of absolute wonderfulness.” Bogutskaya’s fave was #EATPRETTY, an examination of a young photographer consumed by social media. “#EATPRETTY is really interesting because visually it’s very innovative,” she says. “It’s not what you expect at all from a horror film and it’s really insidious in the images it creates.”
That isn’t to say those are the only standouts. The programme is chock-full of dynamic and inventive shorts. There’s the South Korean spine-chiller The Lady from 406, and the southern gothic eeriness of Blood Runs Down. Another highlight is Hair Wolf, which wouldn’t look out of place in the world of Jordan Peele’s social horror, about a black hair salon that has to fend off the cultural appropriating white women that lurk outside its doors.
“It’s such a variety of genres, and that’s the thing because horror is not just one thing,” says Bogutskaya. “We never want to present anything that limits the genre because we don’t believe in that. With short films, it’s a really great opportunity to showcase some of the fresh, new approaches to genre and all the different potential of it.”
They treasure the communal experience of watching horror, so much so that they make sure to experience their screenings with the audience. “The best example of that is when we did We Are The Weirdos 1, and we had an incredible film by a director called Alice Shindelar called I Want You Inside Me,” says Howe. “I’m not gonna reveal what happens but from that title you can tell. At the end of it, there is an incredibly graphic, rather shocking and surprising scene. So in some kind of perverse way, every time we screened Weirdos up and down the country, we made sure we came in for that, because we wanted to gauge the reaction.”
"There’s a community around horror films that no other genre has"
Through their screenings, The Final Girls have been able to replicate that shared experience of equal parts fun and terror, as well as forge their own communities that welcome and celebrate women. It’s why they love horror more than any other genre. “There’s a community around horror films that no other genre has,” says Howe. “It’s probably one of the most open-minded communities. You don’t go into a British drama film necessarily being like, ‘If this is terrible, whatever.’ But you go into a terrible horror film and you go like, ‘Yeah, but it was kind of fun’ and you don’t get that from anything else.”
“When you’re in a cinema and you’re watching a horror film, if somebody screams, it’s physically contagious,” Bogutskaya adds. “You will jump, you will react, or even if you’re not scared, you will laugh at someone else being scared. There is something viscerally, physically contagious about the shared experience of watching a horror movie.”
Looking to the future of We Are The Weirdos, The Final Girls hope to move into a position where they are able to commission shorts themselves. Ideally, they would like Weirdos to become something similar to an anthology film where they can nurture talent through the entire production and distribution process.
Regardless, the response to the first two editions of We Are The Weirdos has been unanimously positive. “It’s not our personal taste, but our eye for new talent and voices in genre that is validated in a way,” says Bogutskaya. “But also it’s really beautiful to see filmmakers we think are massively talented not just get eyeballs on their films, but get people to engage with them, think they’re great, write pieces about them, or recommend them to other people. That is incredibly rewarding. That’s the best part of it really.”