The global success of Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook in 2014 put the focus on Australian women filmmakers, simultaneously giving us an opportunity to explore how both horror and the broader terrain of the “dark fantastic” has dominated a number of the most memorable Australian films made in the last 30 years. The dark fantastic has afforded a number of these filmmakers with a space to think through feminist and other ideological issues in ways both creative and urgent, in a range of different ways.
The attention garnered by The Babadook frames this dossier as an exploration of one aspect of Australian women’s filmmaking practice. The focus on the national is a conscious decision to emphasise the sense of community that underscores women’s filmmaking as potentially a kind of activism in and of itself. Importantly, however, the films covered here transcend the limitations of any kind of ‘scene’ – it is important to note that while many of the filmmakers examined here were a part of these networks, many were not. Additionally, this dossier takes a conscious step away from any kind of essentialist idea of women’s filmmaking: it is the differences across these works that are of interest as much as where they overlap. Providing a space for this range of practices, voices and modes of engagement to stand alongside – rather than in competition – with each other is one of the many things this dossier seeks to champion.
In “‘You’re a Frigid Bitch and Your Friend is a Homo’: Coming of Age in Girl Asleep“, Michelle J. Smith takes a close look at Rosemary Myers’ 2015 feminist coming-of-age fairy tale, considering the role of family and friends in the construction of female identity. Kate Robertson’s “The Spectre at the Window: Tracey Moffatt’s beDevil” approaches this anthology of supernatural tales through the carefully constructed and complex mythologies that Moffatt – one of Australia’s most important and highly regarded visual artists – creates as the basis for this, what we believe at least is the first horror anthology made by a single woman director. Craig Martin’s “Monsters, Masks and Murgatroyd: The Horror of Ann Turner’s Celia” approaches the 1988 film’s complex release history, where the dark fantastic melodrama was reframed as a more straightforward horror film for its international distribution, and what this in turn tells us about the film’s sophisticated mechanics of guilt, innocence, fantasy and childhood. These themes and others are picked up by Martin in his interview with the filmmaker herself in “Trust Your Instinct: An Interview with Ann Turner”. Released the same year as The Babadook, Donna McRae’s “Who’s Knocking in My Little House? Ursula Dabrowsky’s Inner Demon” closely considers the role of the Final Girl in particular in this serial killer/supernatural hybrid, positioning it not only in Australian horror cinema traditions but broader international ones. Finally, McRae – a filmmaker as well as an academic and writer – joins Heidi Lee Douglas and Isabel Peppard in our “Making Magic” roundtable discussion, where these three notably different yet equally impressive filmmakers share their thoughts on their experiences as women horror filmmakers working and living in Australia.
As these essays collectively indicate, the notion of the “dark fantastic” easily transcends the generic boundaries of that which might traditionally be considered straightforward “horror”. Yet between them, this dossier seeks to emphasise both the ways that these films and filmmakers grant a space for perspectives traditionally imagined to be excluded from this genre in particular, while at the same time highlighting their diversity. These films overlap as much as they diverge, and the focus on a national context seeks to explore precisely why and how this is important in the broader picture of expanding filmmaking beyond the dominant triptych of a white/male/heterosexual creative practice. The dark fantastic in Australia at least has granted a space for a number of remarkable women filmmakers to address a range of themes, tropes and styles, giving voice to perspectives that are often sadly lost in the shuffle of a heavily male dominated film industry.