In terms of sheer numbers, the dominant output of female-directed horror films occurs in the short form. Mexican-Canadian director Gigi Saul Guerrero’s credits are representative of what it means to be a prolific, though still under-recognized, female filmmaker working exclusively in horror. With her company Luchagore Productions, Guerrero has directed nearly twenty short films and various TV episodes. Recently she worked with Blumhouse to develop her first feature-length project, Culture Shock (2019), which premiered on July 4th as the Independence Day segment of Hulu’s horror series Into the Dark. Her works-in-progress, however, are listed as shorts in upcoming anthology horror collections. Guerrero’s career reflects that of many other women working in the independent film industry in general, and horror in particular—comprising numerous short projects or collaborations in anthologies and, with luck, a single feature.
Guerrero’s extensive work in shorts also reveals another facet of the independent horror film industry in the twenty-first century. Due to more accessible equipment and affordable production costs offered by digital technology, aspiring filmmakers from underrepresented ethnic or socioeconomic groups are better positioned to build a filmmaking career. Through her use of gore combined with her attention to Latinx communities and traumas, Guerrero joins many other contemporary female horror directors of color, such as Monika Estrella Negra (Flesh, 2016) and Issa López (Tigers Are Not Afraid, 2017) in creating highly-charged political content that reflects under-seen ethnic, racial, or national perspectives in the genre.
Guerrero’s first short Dead Crossing (2011) anticipates the nightmare she later explores in Culture Shock by narrativizing border-crossing as a horrific experience. It also introduces her as a filmmaker who uses grindhouse aesthetics as a tool for critiquing and embodying the fears imposed by the United States government onto Mexican refugees. Although Culture Shock is post-Trump, Dead Crossing demonstrates that border relations have long predated the current political landscape as topics of fear, trauma, and brutality for Mexican citizens hoping to flee the country. Guerrero’s imagining of border security at its most hostile illuminates the risks everyday families face when crossing the border under “normal” circumstances, and ultimately suggests that the violence Mexicans are subjected to leads to ongoing traumatic and physical consequences on both sides of the border.
A colleague and I were just talking about this same disappointing trend earlier this week, Sonia. Even outside of horror, so many female directors are industrially blocked from continuing beyond their freshman, sophomore, or junior film, usually ending up with careers in television (I'm thinking of someone like Rachel Talalay) or with gaps between releases that are far longer than what most male filmmakers experience (I'm thinking of Alice Wu). You drawing attention here to the short film format as a growing opportunity for female filmmakers to produce work and gain appreciation - especially thanks to platforms like YouTube and Vimeo as well as the availability of equipment that you mention - is very valuable to the week's discussion. Do you think the horror genre, in particular - because of a "built-in," avid fanbase and easily marketable conventions - provides a greater likelihood for female filmmakers who are starting out to break into the industry? In your research, does it seem like more female directors start out working in the horror genre?
Response to "Border Crossing Nightmares"
This is a wonderful piece, Sonia, thanks so much for sharing your insights on this topic! I'm so glad you mentioned Tigers are Not Afraid, too; I think this is such a gem of a film, that will hopefully open up the floodgates, along with the other films you mentioned, for more Latinx-directed horror in the US.
As I read your piece, I was sort of reminder of the trio of Mexican directors - Del Toro, Cuaron, and Inarritu - who have seemed to have so much (relatively effortless) recent success industrially as well as commercially. Do you think that there are larger implications for gender when it comes to Latinx horror filmmaking, and Latinx filmmaking as a whole? That is, do you think the same conditions of female horror filmmaking (starting off in the short form, then transitioning to relative success in television and other non-commercial endeavors) would persist if men were to direct the same types of films?
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