It's somewhat disturbing how many of these films are horror films (How many times does Hollywood only pass the Bechdel test with flying colors if one of those colors is blood red?), but none are more disturbing - or polarizing - than Martyrs. Like the first Saw and Hostel, Martyrs is either torture porn, violent victimization as high art, or somewhere in between, depending on who you talk to.
It involves a cult that thinks the way to unlock the secrets of heaven is to create martyrs on Earth (via torture, naturally). One of their victims, grown to adulthood, seeks revenge and, in a sense, gets it. But as the title implies, there are no real winners in this movie. Except the studios: this French film is being remade for an American audience this year.
Suppose you don't have time to see The Help, Martyrs and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and you want your uplifting tale of female black identity, horrific abuse and twisted domestic life all in one 110-minute package. If you want it ultimately uplifting like The Help but with an opening act that seems almost as nihilistic as Martyrs, then Precious is the film for you.
Precious has never known a life without physical, mental and sexual abuse from both parents, and is on her second pregnancy when she learns to read, learns what her mother really is, and learns that her life doesn't have to be this way. Formerly known as Precious, Based on the Novel "Push" by Sapphire, but everybody agrees that was a bad idea now.
2Now and Then (1995)
At last we come to the two films whose scripts were 100% female-spoken (although that's rounded: guys still get a line or two.) In this paean to youth, four kids (including a token overweight one) who grow astonishingly close in a very short span of time discover a dead body that changes their views of life forever. If that makes Now and Then sounds just like Stand by Me, well, you're not the only one to think so.
Reviewers weren't too kind: it has a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, the worst score of any of these films (compare with 96% for 3 Women and 100% for The Watermelon Woman). But then, Hollywood just hasn't released too many examples of this sort of film that's focused on girls growing up together, so those who came of age with this coming-of-age story still fondly remember it 20 years later. (#90skids)
1The Descent (2006)
Six women (including Sarah, marked by tragedy, and her seemingly fearless ex-best friend Juno) go spelunking in an unmarked, unmapped series of caves and discover... things below the surface. Hungry things. Yep, it's another horror flick, but The Descent is at least a skillful example of the genre, not least because of the complex web of relationships the six get to show off before the "crawlers" - and their own distrust and panic - start to whittle their numbers down.
The Descent got great reviews for a horror movie and easily made back its budget, so a disappointing (and more gender-balanced) sequel was as inevitable as rocks falling.
Let us know if we missed any great female-focused movies in the comments!