February marks not only the celebration of Women in Horror Month, but also Black History Month in the US. At a quick glance, horror as a genre looks pretty white. But some of the most key players in horror’s history are black – whether that be actors or directors. So really, I think it’s a great time to celebrate both women and directors of colour this month. Diversity in writers, directors and actors allow us to have richer (and fresher) storytelling and that benefit everyone.
But, as it turns out, it’s 1.) there are disproportionately few women making horror films, and 2.) it’s even more difficult to find horror movies director by women of colour. But thanks to Ashlee Blackwell’s informative, funny and inspirational Twitter and website, I found an incredible amount of information about up-and-coming directors. I was pleased to bits to see the selection of short films that there were to choose from. (Also, if you haven’t seen Horror Noire on Shudder yet, which Blackwell co-wrote, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?)
Searching for Isabelle immediately appealed to me because who doesn’t love a good story of magic, strength and the defeat of creepy men?
Isabelle is a young woman with a seemingly normal life. But when she’s caught and locked up in a man’s basement, she soon discovers that she has the power to project herself in the outside world and communicate with her friends.
With her in the room is another captive, Lucy. They seek comfort and strength in each other, but Lucy is reaching her breaking point. Lucy is taken first, leaving Isabelle alone.
Isabelle reaches her friends one more time to get their help. And upon speaking to them, she hears a harsh truth she already knew: the media is only covering Lucy’s disappearance. Isabelle is seemingly all but forgotten in the basement cell.
But it’s ultimately the work of Isabelle and her friends that gain her freedom. It’s Isabelle’s inner magic (strength) that helps her survive when no other victim does.
Horror written in the frame of real-life terror is often some of the most effective. For many women, being prey to a predator is one of the most prevalent fears we have. But this short film is more than just that. In Searching for Isabelle, writer and director Stephanie Jeter taps into the reality of the disproportionate media coverage of missing people based on gender, age and skin colour. She drives straight home to her point without being tedious.
But Jeter also makes a beautiful movie. It has a dream-like quality that plays with the horror of Isabelle and Lucy’s situation really well. And for a short film, it certainly tells its story in an impactful way. She’s certainly a director and writer to await more from.