Disabled characters in horror have largely been put into one of two categories: the weak who do not survive and the—usually resurrected—villain set on acting out their vengeance for being bullied to death. While I love a good revenge-on-bullies film the one thing I don’t get to see as often—the one thing I think the horror genre needs more of—is disabled characters who live. Not just survive but outwit their captors by playing to their strengths and, when necessary, knowing and using their weaknesses…
…Tony D’Aquino’s The Furies tells the story of a group of eight girls kidnapped and taken out to the woods to be hunted by a group of masked men. Each girl wakes up in a labeled box, with vague memories of a surgical table and no idea how they got to where they are. In order to survive, they must figure out how to escape both the woods and the men in masks. But this isn’t quite the usual hunting game. Each girl has one masked man protecting her, and if a girl is killed, so is her protector. The goal of the game for the killers and the girls is essentially the same: be the last one standing. And make no mistake. This is very much a game, at least for the men.
There’s a lot to love about this movie. The cinematography in certain shots is beautiful and stark. The gore, if you’re into that kind of thing, is next level gruesome. The masks each of the men wear are uniquely terrifying. The most exciting part of it all for me, though? Kayla, played by Airlie Dodds, the film’s disabled central character. Kayla is epileptic and, when we first meet her, seems mostly to play it safe and rely on her friend Maddie (Ebony Vagulans) for protection. Once they both get thrown into the nightmare scenario of the central plot, however, she transforms completely. Kayla’s survival instincts kick in two-fold. She doesn’t just have to find a way to survive the men who are after her and figure out how to escape, she has to do it without the medication that helps keep her seizures under control. Without it there’s no way to predict when a seizure will happen—and when a seizure happens Kayla is helpless. She collapses, unconscious for minutes at a time, totally exposed to the world and the people around her unless she can get to cover first.
Except she’s not completely helpless. In fact, she’s the only one to figure out just what kind of situation she and the other girls are in—just what kind of game these men are playing—because her seizures mess with the implant each of them has. Every time she seizes, she gets a look at the other side, and with these glimpses she’s able to piece together crucial information about where Maddie is, and how to survive long enough to get to her. It’s an unexpected advantage no one who took her anticipated, and it makes for one hell of a satisfying survival arc.
But it’s not just her survival that’s satisfying. Kayla is a strong, fierce, absolutely ruthless Final Girl. Her instincts are almost never to shy away. Instead, she spends much of her time finding ways to protect the other girls as often as possible, even when it means putting herself in danger instead. She goes so far as to kill one of the men in order to protect the youngest member of her unfortunate troupe, Rose (Linda Ngo), in such a brutal way that her challenge of “Come on then!” to the other man who had been hunting close behind all but scares him away.
There are a couple of issues with this movie, no matter how great the women are. As far as viewers are able to tell, the kidnapping of the girls is real, and they really die. But as Kayla’s seizures show us, the experience for the killers is one of VR. The logistics of how it all works are a little fuzzy, and if I think about it too much, I can’t quite make the pieces fit. I can forgive it, though, if it means I get to watch a disabled woman seek her vengeance and the vengeance of those she survived on the men who have used them all for nothing but a twisted fantasy-fulfillment game. Hell hath no fury, after all, like a woman tortured.
The Furies is a Shudder exclusive dropping on October 3rd. Additionally, The Furies is screening as part of Australia’s Monster Fest in October and will then release in Australian cinemas on November 7.
By Katelyn Nelson