While there was a conspicuous dearth of female filmmakers represented in FrightFest’s feature programme (of the 65 films that screened, only Natasha Kermani’s Imitation Girl, Tini Tüllmann’s Freddy/Eddy and Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Léonard’s Radius could boast female directors), the short films showcase went a considerable way to redressing this imbalance. Programmed by Shelagh Rowan-Legg, it exhibited the work of many talented women whom we may in future see directing the festival’s features. Two of these came with a focus on the peculiar functionalities of the female anatomy.
To the sound of military drums, Shelagh Rowan-Legg’s Flow (2017) opens with an external shot – filmed through two sloping walls, spread like legs, to either side of the camera – of a building’s arched doorway. Next there is a low angle shot, tilting upwards between an avenue of trees to the sun peeping over the top of a staircase. A third shot pans over a niche formed of concrete barricades, with a female soldier (Lucy Clements) at its centre spray-painting a bright red V on one of the walls, as her comrade (Jamie Birkett) checks her gun.
All three of these landscapes are naturalistic, but framed in such a way as to foreshadow the anatomical concerns of the narrative to come, as these two female soldiers – caught in a civil war – argue about periods, tampons, cramps and menstrual mood swings while casually taking out all male comers. It is a fast and funny commentary on the fitness of women in combat situations, in spite or even because of their physiological cycles. Oh, and there will be blood.
“You and your vagina,” says the text on a medical leaflet, with a picture of a personified waving vulva in high heels. “It only takes five minutes.”
In a waiting room with her fiend and moral support Anna (Isabella Laughland), Chloe (Sophia Di Martino) peruses the pamphlet in horror. In fact Kate Herron’s Smear takes less than five minutes, not least because the gynaecologist (Nick Mohammed) is interrupted in his examination by the oozing Lovecraftian creature concealed between Chloe’s legs and aggressively opposed to being prodded. Saying that its two fallopian tentacles resemble the hammerpede from Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012) is really just another way of declaring that these are decidedly vaginal in form, here hilariously reflecting Chloe’s self-conscious anxieties about the icky monstrousness of her own femininity. The results, though messy, are very funny.