Right from the beginning, Evil Dead (2013), directed by Fede Álvarez, seems to set itself up as a typical slasher film, set in an isolated cabin in the woods, involving a group of friends who would later die one by one. Sure, there is a crossing over to demonic possession territory in the film, but as the plot progresses, one can see how slasher conventions mostly drive the story.
Aside from the setting, we also see the concept of the Final Girl in the film. Coined by Carol J. Clover, the Final Girl is a theory about the use of gender in slasher films, the construction of the characters in them, and the cross-gender identification that happens with audiences as they watch these films. (Clover, 2002)
The Final Girl is the one girl who notices that something strange is going on. In the movie, we see this when Mia was so bothered by the smell of something dead and rotting, while the rest of the group was oblivious. The Final Girl is also usually a brunette, which Mia was, to contrast blonde stereotypes. The Final Girl may start out as a victim, helpless and vulnerable, the way Mia was as she struggled with her drug addiction and later on, with the demonic possession, as well as with the Abomination literally coming after her in the final act of the film. However, the Final Girl also reaches a turning point and learns to fight back. She is the last character left alive to confront the Monster, and she emerges victorious. Mia learns to fight back and arms herself with a chainsaw, defeating the Abomination in the end.
At this point, many do wonder whether the Final Girl is a feminist character, given that audiences see a tormented female fighting back against the Monster, and given that male audiences also end up identifying with the Final Girl and root for her in the end. However, when we look closer, we begin to see some problems and realize that the Final Girl might not be a feminist figure after all, and is still made for the male spectator.
For one, the Final Girl is subjected to the sadistic male gaze and is seen as a passive object, as something that is inferior. She is the character that audiences want to see struggling, getting hurt, losing her agency, and being terrorized by the Monster. There is an emphasis on the penetration of her body with the Monster’s phallic weapons. Because of this, she becomes a vehicle for the male’s sadomasochistic fantasies.
Moreover, the Final Girl becomes difficult to see as a feminist figure also because the reason why it is easier for male audiences to root for her and identify with her is due to her lack of femininity compared to the other female characters, as well as her transformation from feminine to masculine by the end of the film. In horror movies, women are often the victims and men are the heroes. In Evil Dead, the female characters were the first ones to be tormented. Eric and David seemed to survive better than the rest, and David seemed most likely to be the one to save the day, until he wasn’t, and Mia stepped up to kill the Abomination.
Though ultimately a satisfying scene, we cannot help but notice the use of gender in the way Mia stepped up to be the hero. The Final Girl concept implied that it was possible for Mia to become the hero because she was not too feminine in the first place, and that as soon as she is reconstituted to become masculine, then she will defeat the Monster. This happened as her body experienced different trials like being possessed, being injured multiple times, and even being buried alive. Mia finally “mans” herself by arming herself with a weapon, looking for the Abomination, looking at the Abomination, fighting it, and eventually saving herself. In the process, she “unmans” the Monster’s masculinity. Most slasher films would have male villains that lack masculinity and this aspect would be played around with as the Final Girl fights back. In Evil Dead, the lack of masculinity is apparent from the start, since the Abomination is in a female body. What happens then, by the final act, is that this lack of masculinity is further emphasized, with Mia using her weapon to penetrate the body of the Abomination. When this happens, Mia transforms herself from feminine to masculine, from victim to hero.
So what does this say about cross-gender identification? When male audiences identify with characters like the Final Girl, are they truly empathizing with a female character, or are they merely being subjected to yet another convention of the male gaze? When the Final Girl defeats the Monster, do they rejoice because they root for the female, or because they identify with the masculine defeating something that is less than masculine? If I have learned at least one thing from reading this film using the concept of the Final Girl, it is to be more critical about the way gender is used in horror films as it reveals the dynamics of gender in society, and opens up the discussion for the sociopolitical implications of these dynamics.
In the end, Evil Dead to me was a fun film to watch with a group. I still had fun despite watching it for the second time, probably because I knew the reactions the different scenes would elicit in my classmates. The film had all the things people would consider horror in the mainstream and it was fast-paced, leaving little room for dull moments. However, what I appreciated the most was learning about the concept of the Final Girl before watching the film again, as it allowed me to reflect more about the representations of women in horror films and what these say about audiences and society.
Carol J. Clover, “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)