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Suspense, enticement, and a lingering uneasy feeling that stays with you long after you leave the cinema: These are the elements of a great thriller.
Here is a look at some of my personal favourites – 5 female directors that stand out for me.
A promising director from her first feature film back in 1981, Bigelow has a string of provocative and critically-acclaimed films under her belt, including: ‘Strange Days’ (1995), ‘Point Break’ (1991) up until her (other) Academy Award nominated ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (2012).
To describe her films in her own words: “I always want to make films. I think of it as a great opportunity to comment on the world in which we live.” Her films do just that, as she explores various subcultures and the sub-worlds within the world.
Recommended Movie: ‘Hurt Locker’ (2008)
It is no surprise that Bigelow took home the Academy Award for Best Director in 2010 for this enticing film. This is not your average war movie. ‘Hurt Locker’ is the story of a sergeant assigned to a bomb squad during the Iraqi war told from an intimately personal perspective.
The director’s cinematic choices, such as the use of hand-held shots and choppy editing, give the audience member the feeling of physically being in that environment-especially in the opening scenes. It explores the controversial concept of men who actually love and are addicted to war. It can have us morally-conflicted as an audience as we find ourselves empathizing with the character’s desires and frustrations as he is torn between home life and war-life.
Although not as experienced as a feature film director, Weinstock is one to look out for as her directing skill shows promise in ‘The Moment’ (2013).
Her directing style is brave and original and delivers a more subtle thrill that lures you as an audience member to want to peep in further.
Recommended Movie: ‘The Moment’ (2013)
The story follows a troubled war photographer, already suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and acute mental illness now trying to figure out what happened to her missing ex-lover, who she believes she may or may not have murdered.
The film is portrayed from an exclusively first–person perspective of the mentally unstable protagonist as she tries to piece together the events from her scattered mind. This can make the narrative tricky to follow at times, but adds to the engagement value as you have to piece things together just as the character is trying to do.
Lagos displays, in her directing style, a deep understanding of human nature and shows a great respect for the various viewpoints of various characters. The emotional content of some of her films could almost constitute drama films, but this is where she gets clever: she manages to use the thriller genre to express, and bring into question, the darker depths of the average human psyche in moments that we are the most tested.
She actually started her career on a short thriller film, ‘Underground’ (2003) which made some cutting social commentary and got people talking. It became clear that she was set to be a more thinking and questioning thriller director.
Recommended Movie: ‘96 Minutes’ (2001)
This narrative was actually inspired by true events and involves the lives of four youngsters who thrown together by a whirlwind of catastrophic events throughout the course of the day.
The use of the medium is intelligent as this non-linear editing style effectively juxtaposes character choices, consequences and internal turmoil as they strive to piece everything together and are forced to evolve in the process.
The film’s storyline is skilfully woven and the performances are strong. Feelings of confusion and vulnerability are complemented with contrasting moments of extreme courage in a visually arresting manner that will get you thinking.
Kusama has quirkiness in her style of directing which combines cutting, and at times dark, humour with arresting visuals and outstanding performances, allowing her actors space to really explore and play with their role.
Some of her films include: ‘Girl Fight’ (2000), ‘Jennifer’s Body’(2009) and ‘The Invitation’ (2015)
Recommended Movie: ‘Aeon Flux’ (2005)
Charlize Theron dominates as the heroin in this post-apocalyptic world. The production design and narrative concepts are on another level of imagination to begin with.
Kusama uses every inch of her directing capacity to orchestrate and bring to life this believable world- from the fresh performances of the outlandish characters, to the use of shot design and editing to keep the pace and attention where it should be at every given moment.
A powerful Thriller /drama director as well as a formidable documentary director, Amy Berg goes where angels fear to tread in her subject matter.
Her documentary ‘Deliver us from Evil’ (2006) was a fearless investigation into the topic of child abuse in religious organizations and gained her critical acclaim as well as more than the intended stir.
Recommended Movie: ‘Every Secret Thing’ (2014)
The story follows a detective taking a deeper look into the case of two child murderers possibly being responsible for a similar crime when they return from Juvenile detention.
The film was directed with thought placed into different viewpoints. It tackles themes of guilt and innocence intertwined and challenged themes of responsibility.
The actors delivered powerful and multi-dimensional performances where their characters seemed to be peeled apart in front of the camera.
Thrillers are there not just to entice us but to shed light on certain dark and questionable parts of life and the human psyche. These directors have a deep insight into the parts of human nature that they are commenting on. They also know how to use the medium at their disposal to enhance these aspects as their choices are not just about being pretty but telling the story most effectively.
Who are your favourite female thriller directors?
Are there any that I have left off the list?