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As Above, So Below is really only an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground film, especially as there is no singular defined Adversary, but considering how very underground it is, I felt it fitting to include here.

Scarlett is on a mission to finish her late father’s scholarly work on the philosopher’s stone, which brings her on a quest through the Paris catacombs with several companions. But down in the deep below, all of their fears and past tragedies come back to haunt them, in a very material form. Hidden doors appear while others vanish just after being used. They end up trapped in a labyrinth of chthonic tunnels, and not many make it out alive. But in the end, Scarlett finds the magic she was looking for.

 

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I just re-watched The Girl With All The Gifts (so good it merited a second viewing), and decided it qualifies as at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story (there’s a lot more going on in this film, so the GU aspect is somewhat secondary). However, can only give some broad strokes here as any more would be spoilers.

Melanie, an orphan (though from causes more grotesque than normal), is locked in a military base, but makes friends with a teacher and eventually also some of the soldiers, who are her companions. The adversary is the doctor who wants to dissect her brain for a cure to the zombie outbreak. She has to navigate a post-apocalyptic world (made even more otherworldly, I’m sure, by the fact that she’s probably never been outside of that base before), and try to rescue her friends. She has a final confrontation with the adversary that is very much a “you have no power over me” situation, and discovers her destiny to be something More.

A Cure for Wellness is a movie with a lot of potential to be something truly original and creepy, and it has some stunning visuals, but ultimately it was very disappointing for me, especially in the last third or so of the film. I kept thinking it was becoming a pale copy of Phantom of the Opera, and was gratified to see a reviewer point out the same thing. However, perhaps that is an even more apt comparison considering the Girls Underground angle.

This is one of those “If the Story Were About Her” situations – I didn’t notice it at first, but if one imagines the whole scenario from the point of view of Hannah (who doesn’t even appear to be a major character initially), it’s at least an Honorable Mention. Dr. Volmer is the Adversary, of course, who she defeats, and Lockhart is her companion, who even betrays her in a way by succumbing to the waters. The climax takes place underground, and almost the entire story happens within one “house” (okay, a large sanitarium, but a nicely labyrinthine one at least).

Dig Two Graves was unfortunately less creepy and supernatural than the trailer made it seem, but nonetheless it’s at least an Honorable Mention as a Girls Underground story.

Jake, a young teenage girl, loses her brother when they decide to jump off a high cliff into a quarry, and she hesitates at the last minute – he jumps without her, and disappears into the water forever. Her parents seem to quickly move on, distracted by a new baby on the way, so it is up to Jake to seek a way to get her brother back from the dead. One day she is approached by some strange, anachronistically-dressed men (led by one who might be called the adversary) at the entrance to a tunnel, who promise they can bring her brother back, provided someone is sacrificed in his place. She then must decide if she can bear to push a school friend off the cliff.

Like Forbidden Game, it turns out that a lot of what is going on had its start with something her grandfather was involved in many years before, coming back to haunt them all. Unfortunately as far as the GU archetype goes, it is largely the grandfather and not Jake who deals with, and ultimately defeats, the adversary.

The Giant Under the Snow by John Gordon is another great children’s fantasy book from the late 60’s, like The Gruesome Green Witch and A Walk Out of the World, albeit only an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes.

Jonk (short for Jonquil, one of the more interesting GU names I’ve come across) wanders off from a school trip in the “backlands” one day and stumbles across a strange artifact and a Green Man figure embedded in the landscape. She is chased by a black dog and rescued by a mysterious woman named Elizabeth. Jonk and her two male companions learn more about the legend of the Green Man and are pursued by terrifying leather-skinned men when they seek out Elizabeth, who tells them the story of an ancient fight against an evil warlord who is trying to rise again. Jonk and her friends must hide the artifact from the adversary, but at least they get one big perk – magical devices from Elizabeth that allow them to fly! In the end, Jonk does end up facing off against the warlord one on one and thwarts his return.

Technically, I suppose this book fulfills many of the key plot points of a Girls Underground story, but ultimately something feels missing and it doesn’t quite fit the classic pattern. Perhaps it’s the lack of any meaningful interaction between Jonk and the adversary (he never even gets a chance to speak), the absence of a transition into another world, and her normal home life.

I just had a chance to watch the independent film American Fable, and while it’s not quite the classic GU story, it hits enough points (and the general tone) to warrant an Honorable Mention here. It is perhaps a less fantastical Pan’s Labyrinth, or a less grim Tideland, both of which have been covered here previously, and both of which feature an innocent and story-obsessed girl caught up in the harsh world of adults. The fantasy and dreamlike elements could have been turned up a notch in my opinion, though they were very well done.

11 year old Gitty lives with her family on their farm, her only friend a beloved chicken. While she is close with her father, her parents are both nonetheless distracted by the possibility of losing their farm, and some other intrigue she doesn’t understand. One day Gitty stumbles upon a man who appears to be being held prisoner in their old grain silo – although she intuits that her family has something to do with it, she eventually befriends the man, even going so far as to descend into the silo to spend time with him (not quite underground, but a journey down at least). In a way, everyone is a potential adversary for Gitty – the man himself, who turns out to be a threat to her family, her own parents who are hiding things from her, the strange woman they seem to be colluding with, and possibly most of all her older brother, who ends up in a final, violent confrontation with her when he discovers she’s been fraternizing with the enemy. The imprisoned man could also be seen as her companion, and/or the one she is trying to rescue in classic GU style.

Gitty sees the world through the lens of stories (The Power of Story), making sense of what she experiences by relating it to the tales she knows well. And so what is on the one hand a mundane situation – a farm being threatened by economic failure and the response of desperate people – becomes a fairy tale from a different angle, surreal and moving in its telling.

51t3lj1pz-l-_sl160_I was excited for The Door by Andy Marino because the title so nicely alludes to “portal” part of Portal-Quest Fantasy (of which Girls Underground is an example), however it turned out to only be an Honorable Mention and – while interesting and ambitious – was ultimately disappointing.

Hannah, 12, lives with her widowed mother next to a remote lighthouse. Her inner world is complex and somewhat dysfunctional, in that she talks to people in her head and is crippled by certain OCD tendencies (which was an interesting and unique aspect for a protagonist, though it’s not fully explored). One day strangers visit, and events compel her mother to reveal that their family has a sacred duty – they guard the door to the city of the dead, a vast otherworld where all souls go after death. When her mother is murdered, Hannah goes through the forbidden door to rescue her.

In the city of the dead, Hannah’s “imaginary” inner people materialize before her, and become her companions, along with a couple dead souls who help her. She must avoid the ominous Watchers who patrol the city, and she has conflict with those who have betrayed her – but there is never really a firm Adversary working against her. She does start to forget herself, and the details of her life (a consequence of being in the land of the dead) but that is remedied. The city and its inhabitants are creatively imagined and described, but that’s not quite enough to sustain the book.

While Hannah manages to find her mother, and even her long lost father, and there are some tantalizing hints that she’s been to this otherworld before somehow, nothing is explained in the end, her final test is rather anticlimactic, and the resolution is vague and unsatisfying.

511pZqCjfWL._SL160_The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab is really only an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes, but well worth reading.

Teenager Lexi lives in a small village named Near (in some undefined time that includes rifles but not cars or modern technology) that appears to be very closed off to outside influences. There’s a story in Near of a witch who lived long ago, who was accused of killing a child and murdered in retaliation. History has become indistinguishable from legend at this point, but Lexi begins to suspect the Near witch is real, and not gone after all, when children begin disappearing from the village.

Unfortunately, the locals fixate on the stranger who has recently showed up, an enigmatic boy that Lexi names Cole (because he won’t divulge his real name), and who becomes her companion as she tries to discover the truth behind the missing children, while protecting her own little sister Wren from joining them (and, eventually, protecting Cole from the villagers). She is helped (and sometimes hindered) along the way by two elderly sisters that were once powerful witches, and may still have some magic left in them. As time runs out she must find the old witch’s bones to put her to rest, which involves entering a haunted wood and battling the witch’s spirit and her crows. (A sort of secondary adversary is Lexi’s uncle, who is one of the village elders and leads the hunt for Cole, refusing to listen to Lexi’s protestations.)

Lexi does defeat the Near witch, and saves her sister, but only with Cole’s help. There is not much interaction with the adversary until the very end, and there’s no big journey or otherworldly exploration. She does have absent parents, though, in that her father is dead and her mother has sort of faded due to grief. And the adversary does try to trick her at the last moment.

61MWiQ9VnEL._SL160_The Final Girls is probably just an Honorable Mention as far as the GU archetype goes, but worth mentioning, as it cleverly references the old slasher movies that are often themselves Girls Underground stories. I will also note that early on, there is a mention of the Persephone myth, and GU examples often will reference other GU stories (most often Alice, but sometimes older myths and fairytales).

Max loses her mother in a car crash, and years later tries to connect with her memory by going to see a showing of the movie that made her momentarily famous, an 80’s slasher film called Camp Bloodbath. Max and her friends get magically transported into the world of the movie, complete with killer on the loose, and Max finds herself trying to rescue her “mother” (really the character played by her mother). They become the “final girls” once all of Max’s friends and the other characters are killed off. But it is only when her mother sacrifices herself that Max gains the power to defeat the adversary – which somehow magically rescues all her friends and sends them home…. or so it seems.

51u68zdhqQL._SL160_At the Devil’s Door is a fairly mediocre horror movie but with an honorable-mention level GU plot. You might think that the first character you meet, a teenage girl, is the Girl Underground, but it’s a bit more complicated. This girl is tricked into letting the devil take over her body, but the adversary hardly stops there.

Fast forward a couple decades, and there’s a real estate agent showing a house, when she sees the first girl in the hallway, and thinks it’s the missing daughter of the house’s owners. After finding out that the girl she’s seen is actually the first girl, the one who supposedly committed suicide in the house in the 80’s, the real estate agent confronts the devil-possessed girl and is killed. Another potential Girl bites the dust.

The real Girl Underground here is the agent’s sister Vera, who begins to uncover the story behind these events. She finds out that Hannah (the first girl) was pregnant when she died, although a virgin. Apparently the devil has been trying to bring forth a supernatural child to inhabit. Vera confronts the devil but is thrown out a window and goes into a coma for eight months, after which she discovers she is about to give birth to a baby. Vera is understandably freaked out, and gives the baby up for adoption.

Six years later, Vera decides to find her daughter, presumably possessed by the devil, and kill her. She confronts the little girl, who technically doesn’t confirm anything but acts creepy enough that you know she’s right. But Vera cannot bring herself to kill her, and so she takes the girl with her instead. This suggests another “girl loses” version of the archetype, which seems to mostly be present in the horror genre.

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

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Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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