Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Use of Tropes: Female Werewolf

I must admit that despite a soft spot for the films of budget arthouse auteur Chris Alexander, I’d let this 2015 flick gather dust – possibly because of the word werewolf in the title. This is a shame because it was released prior to the third of his Irina films, Blood Dynasty, and in many respects shows us the experimental bridge between the later films of the series.

Like the Irina films it is most definitely experimental, a psychosexual drama that explores a psychosis embodied in a female character but, in this case, the central character – billed as She and played by Carrie Gemmell, who was also in Alexander’s Blood for Irina and Queen of Blood – is named as a werewolf rather than a vampire.

I say that but the imagery and tropes through most of the film is more reminiscent of a vampire film and we must remember the words of Bram Stoker, “The Wehr-Wolf is but a variant of the Vampire.” (Lady of the Shroud). When we meet the mostly silent She (the first words of dialogue do not occur until just before the half way point) we are aware of her own sexual urging and frustrations. In a motel (by the establishing shot, though the layout is more like an apartment) she dreams of an encounter, we do see fangs within that sequence, but she wakes alone.

feeling eyetooth
When she wakes, her trip to the bathroom tells us that she feels that she is changing, feeling at an eye-tooth which is no sharper than anyone else’s. This is perhaps where we get one of the unexplained doubts – is she changing? Is it all in her head? Is she psychotic? One thing we can say is the thought of the change is something that she finds erotic, cupping her own breast immediately afterwards and, to me, the werewolf myth is less likely to have a noticeable change like a sharper tooth (outside of the transformation) and feels more like a vampire trope. The referenced eroticism is also closely connected to the vampire genre.

Carrie Gemmell as She
That said the film also connects her to the moon (originally a vampire trope – in the early literature – the werewolf connection is, of course, well established) through both the physical satellite and in her menstruation whilst in the shower. Again, the blood swirling at the plughole is a staple of many a horror subgenre. I have to mention the shower sequence as being noticeably modest, deliberately so – Alexander might be exploring a psychosexual drama but there is nothing sexploitative within it. Other thoughts that might occur to the viewer is a connection between the beast and fertility but also the popular connection between the full moon and psychosis.

Cheryl Singleton as the office worker
If this is a psychosexual exploration the erotic aspect seems perhaps cold at times, sterile even. If we take the object of desire, an office worker (Cheryl Singleton, also Queen of Blood & Blood Dynasty), they look at each other without words but the stares are almost dead and the stalked woman expressionless – as though mesmerised (again probably something more associated with vampires than werewolves). Eventually she comes, willingly if trance-like, to She’s rooms and is set upon (a comment about the TV not working one of the few dialogue lines).

seems vampiric
As She attacks, we see fangs and, watching this scene out of context and without the film title, one would immediately associate the scene with vampires. There is some clawing at the torso but this would not be out with a vampire film either. What we do not see at this point is any form of hairiness, as one would expect from a werewolf. Perhaps werewolf might be used more in the form of a killer (the moniker of werewolf and vampire have been attached to serial killers)?

There is a transformation at the end of the film and, given the budget, it is remarkably done. Using exposure, filters and (I would guess) superimposed imagery we see the wolf emerge and then it becomes clear that the head is emerging from her open mouth (reminiscent of A Company of Wolves). Yet even then we are left to wonder whether the transformation is in her head, allegorical or real. The connectivity to nature, perhaps fertility, remains but her love is for the dead.

with Irina
I have indicated that one may read the text of Female Werewolf in a variety of ways; fantasy, allegory, supernatural, psychotic. However, there is a tell in film that I missed until pointed out to me and after I had written the main body of this article. When we meet She, we become aware of her fantasies as we see, within the heavily filtered sequence, another woman. Credited as dream woman, she is played by Shauna Henry – star of the Irina cycle. In a correspondence with Chris Alexander he revealed to me that the dream woman is, in fact, Irina and she infects She – making that werewolf/vampire connection stronger, making this a vampire film (in fact, though I will stick to the ‘Use of Tropes’ exploration), and making this not only a bridging film within the Irina cycle in a stylistic sense but making it a film directly connected to the cycle.

Like the core Irina cycle, this is not going to be the easiest of watches for viewers. For the casual viewer it will seem, vague, without narrative. For the gore-hound it will barely satisfy. For the person looking for sexploitation and titillation it will miss the mark. However, for the Chris Alexander fan it will speak volumes, it has depths to explore and consider and it marks a moment stylistically in the Irina volumes where they moved to their most experimental.

The imdb page is here.

on Blu-Ray @ Amazon US

On DVD @ Amazon UK

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