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In 1996, I was seven years old and one of my favorite things in the whole world was The Craft. It would only be decades later that I would actually watch the movie but as a precocious grade school student, the trailer was enough. From the movie-voice announcing that these were “the girls who didn’t belong,” to Morrissey’s mournful "How Soon is Now", these impossibly glamorous teens performing magic in an honest-to-God modern-day coven spoke to my heart and soul. As a child who was obsessed with The Wizard of Oz, the wizardry held a lot of appeals, but above all else, I desperately wanted my very own obsessed female friendship. While most of the films about obsessed teen friendships end in disaster, even as an adult pushing 30, there is nothing in the world I want more to have my life put into a tailspin due to some wild thunderstorm of a female friendship that will threaten my well-being.
Like most kids, my friendships were plagued by minor dramas and enlivened by spirited revelations, but none seemed to approach the obsessive fervor I desired. By the time I reached high school, my dream friendship never materialized and it seems unlikely it ever will. Still, thanks to the magic of movies, my longing and dreams were somewhat fulfilled by watching and obsessing over a brand of chaotic teen movies where female friendships burned brightly until they burned out.
One of the major obsessions of my teens was menstrual horror masterpiece, Ginger Snaps. While centered on two sisters rather than friends, it fulfilled the qualifications of an intense and intimate female friendship. In suburban Ontario, Ginger and Brigitte are outcasted teens obsessed with death. They are each other’s only friends and early on, establish a pact, “Out by sixteen or dead on the scene, but together forever.” However, on the same night that Ginger gets her first period, she is attacked by a werewolf and starts changing.
Ginger Snaps operates as a not-so-subtle metaphor about puberty, but more essentially, is about female friendship. Ginger and Brigitte are each other’s whole world. They fuel each other’s creativity and protect each other from the harsh realities of adolescence. Crucially, Ginger Snaps reveals how toxic and unequal their relationship ends up being. Brigitte, the younger sister, finds herself constantly undermined and undervalued in the shadow of her older sister’s control. Unlike many films within the subgenre, the movie addresses an adolescent need for belonging and rather than demonize the hormonal explosions of puberty, it humanizes them.
When dead people start piling up, Brigitte and Ginger seem irreparable tied together, bound in a new blood-pact. Murder ends up being a dividing factor as well, breaking the spell of their codependency. Brigitte loves her sister enough to help her cover up for her crimes (though reluctantly) but no longer sees herself as an extension of her sister’s ego. The film’s final act sees Brigitte asserting her independence, letting go of her unhealthy sisterly attachment.
Unsurprisingly, many of these films focus on the unforgivable danger of being a teen girl with unchecked desire. In Poison Ivy, Drew Barrymore rebranded as a “hot teen” plays Ivy, who becomes best-friends with Sylvie Cooper (Sara Gilbert) and is quickly accepted as a member of the family. For Sylvie, Ivy represents everything she wants to be: beautiful, outspoken and wild. Sylvie also seems to be struggling with her sexuality, and as much as she wants to be Ivy, she wants to be with her as well. The close friendship they develop happens crucially at a point where she is struggling at home, with a sick mother and a father in the grips of a midlife crisis.
While at first Ivy seems to be a misunderstood teen with a heart of gold, it quickly becomes apparent she is not what she seems. Her sexuality, in particular, is revealed to be destructive and predatory. She yearns to take the place of Sylvie’s mother and ends up pushing her out of a window. While Sylvie is not aware of this at first, it nonetheless binds the pair and cements the inequality of their friendship as Ivy continues to take advantage of Sylvie’s strong need for acceptance.
Yet, in the gaps between Ivy being a sociopath, the movie indulges in the pillars of intimate female friendship that I always yearned for. The two girls sleep together, in a never-ending sleepover. They chat at night, share clothing and even go to get tattoos. They are inseparable and even though this honeymoon is short-lived as Ivy decides to take things to eleven in her nefarious plan to make herself a permanent spot in the Cooper home, even that short-lived friendship was enough to sustain a deep yearning for my very own Ivy. Just like tacking on an unhappy ending on a gangster film in the 1930s did little to dissuade Hollywood’s glamorization of the crime world, the inevitable death or punishment of characters in movies like Poison Ivy or The Craft, have done little to dissuade my continued passion for this kind of intimate female friendship.
You have to leave the confines of America's puritanical system to really get the platonic ideal of an obsessed female friendship movie. Based on the same murder case that inspired Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (another classic of the genre), Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, is a French film about two female friends who meet at their Catholic school. The teenage pair becomes quick pals and as one does, pledge themselves to the devil and undertake a spiritual journey to commit as many crimes against God as possible.
The pair becomes a singular expression of sinfulness, engaging in escalating crimes leading up to the murder of one of the girl’s parents. Rather than have a macabre and punitive energy that eventually overwhelms most films of the genre, this movie is playful. Without, necessarily, endorsing parental murder, the movie upholds the girl’s friendship as a rejection of social expectations. They are not just inseparable; their shared experiences are fixated on using their social status to take down the hierarchy of church, society, and gender while having as much fun as possible. Even the film’s ending, where the girl’s go out in a blaze of glory, has the energy of Thelma and Louise rather than a righteous tone of punishment.
While many films in the genre of obsessed female friendships often seem to be an unequal relationship where you are either a leader or a follower (Jawbreaker is tangentially a part of the genre and has a nice riff on this theme), Don’t Deliver Us From Evil has the girls on equal standing. Part of the appeal is the idea of being absorbed or even erased by another person, but that fantasy indulges the cautionary warnings about intimate female friendships. While in many ways the most radical and exploitative of all the films mentioned here, Don’t Deliver Us From Evil, also represents the most positive view of female friendship.
I never got my very own obsessed female friendship but luckily the sub-genre seems to be a never-ending well of inspiration for filmmakers. With the upcoming Thoroughbreds, it's possible my passion for self-effacing friendship might be renewed. While I’m old enough to desire that kind of close relationship with a woman without murder, the element of danger symbolizes an unbreakable bond but also a rejection of social niceties. These films are appealing because they subvert the expectations of gender and obedience, which is why they’re likely to never really lose their appeal.