Academic journal article Outskirts

Female "Madness" as the Driving Force Behind the Monstrous in the Insidious Film Series

Academic journal article Outskirts

Female "Madness" as the Driving Force Behind the Monstrous in the Insidious Film Series

Article excerpt

Introduction

Some of the most influential feminist studies of horror films established strong links between the monstrous and the women in film by relying on a psychoanalytic framework set by Laura Mulvey in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" (1975), which draws upon Lacanian conceptions of visual fetishism and identifies women as objects of the male spectator's (and protagonist's) gaze, evoking anxiety of castration. My own analysis, rather than concentrating on viewers' motives and the psychological effects of films, offers a somewhat alternative reading of the link between the monster and the female protagonist, and is as such primarily focused on the intra-filmic elements.

Linda Williams, who modifies Mulvey's schema, points out that, contrary to mainstream cinema, women in horror films also possess "the gaze", as the first to see and know the monster. Furthermore, she claims that these two objects of cinematic spectacle-the woman and the monster-have a similar status within patriarchal structures of seeing. Although the monster may threaten the woman, their bodies are viewed in the same manner; both are constituted as exhibitionist-objects, both are perceived as freakish, representing the threat of castration in the eyes of the traumatized male (Williams 1996. 20-21). I maintain that the female protagonists and the monsters in the Insidious films not only have a similar status but that the monster may be read as the very product of the anxious female protagonist, serving as a tool for gender roles destabilization which entrap her. In so doing, I rely on Barbara Creed's second category of the "abject". Creed, who claims that the horror film frequently depicts "monstrous women" threatening to castrate men (1996, 36), bases her theory on Julia Kristeva's concept of "abjection", that which "disturbs identity, system, order. ... does not respect borders, positions, rules" (Kristeva, 1982: 4). Creed asserts that the horror film illustrates the work of abjection at least in three ways. Firstly, it depicts images of abjection (corpse, bodily wastes). Secondly, it is concerned with borders: that which threatens to cross the "border" and destabilize the symbolic order is abject. Thirdly, it often illustrates the maternal figure as abject, as the monstrous-feminine (Creed 1996 40, 41). Relying on Kristeva's theory, Creed sees the origins of this monstrous-feminine in the pre-Oedipal mother-infant relation, which is marked by conflict because the child struggles to separate from its mother, to create boundaries and its own identity but the mother is reluctant to release it. Additionally, as a site both of sexual desire and bodily impurities (breast milk, flowing menstrual blood), the maternal body both attracts and repels the infant, and is in such manner much like the monster which simultaneously entices and disgusts. In order for the child to ultimately take its place in the symbolic order and create borders between itself and the mother, the threat has to be eliminated, the abject purified, which is in fact, as Creed claims, the "ideological project of the popular horror film" (1996, 46). I argue that instead of depicting maternal figures as reluctant to release the child, the Insidious films deal with female protagonists (Renai, Lorraine, Michelle, Quinn), who fall into a different category of the abject. Overburdened with domestic and parental duties, they are the ones subtly struggling to break free from the gendered bonds of motherhood. This, however, implies a threat to the traditional system of gender roles and so it is at this precise border, which separates those who take up their proper gender roles from those who do not, that the monstrous/abject is produced and the link between the monster and the female protagonist strengthened. Each film shows the monstrous eventually subdued, abject purified and order restored. The borders, however, have shifted: the male protagonists are shown to become more invested in parenting, assuming a portion of domestic obligations, and thus lightening the burden of the female characters. …

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