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“They will all abandon you. All you have left is my desire for you.”

I’ve covered a lot of horror movies (and a few books) here, because it seems to be a frequent genre for Girls Underground stories, especially those featuring an adult protagonist (and as I’ve mentioned before, these “girls” often have much darker fates than their younger counterparts, which will be confirmed by this current entry). I’ve profiled some of the classics of the genre, but somehow entirely missed the 1992 original Candyman (a sequel is in the works, which will be especially interesting considering the director Jordan Peele has already made one GU movie), even though it fits perfectly. Doubly negligent on my part since Candyman has long been one of my favorites (can anyone resist Tony Todd’s velvet voice beckoning to “be my victim”?), and I found on a recent re-watch that it has held up well over the years.

Helen is a graduate student studying urban legends, and one night invokes the titular boogeyman as a game, making the crucial mistake that sends her into the otherworld – both in the sense of embroiling her in the history of this phantom killer, and in the sense of stepping into a dangerous crime-ridden housing project, far from familiar territory. Her companion is her fellow thesis-writer, Bernadette. As Helen uncovers the mystery of the Candyman, he begins appearing to her, always causing her to black out and resurface in the midst of some gruesome scene – which then makes her the prime suspect in several murders, leading to her commitment in an institution. He kills her companion too, and her husband betrays her – she is alone. Candyman insists that she must surrender to him willingly, join him, in order to save an innocent child he has kidnapped. He tempts her with immortality. She seems ready to make the bargain, but at the last minute sets him on fire and rescues the child, although she loses her own life in the process. Now Helen has become a Candyman-like figure, able to be summoned in the same manner, ready to wreak bloody vengeance (another Girl Becomes Adversary).

What I noticed in particular this time around was that in its own way, this is all about the Power of Story. What the Candyman wants most – what he thrives on – is belief. The legend must continue, and it was Helen’s work trying to explain it and therefore weaken its power that threatened him. With her final act, she made such an impression on the public that she became a legend herself, therefore gaining the same kinds of powers and his promised immortality.

I recently watched Wildling, directed by Fritz Böhm, and by the end I had concluded that it at least qualifies as an Honorable Mention here.

Anna grows up with a man who is (to us) obviously not her father, who keeps her locked in a room with warnings about the monsters (called Wildlings) that prowl the woods looking to eat small children. When she enters puberty, he gives her drugs to suppress it, making her ill. Eventually, he attempts suicide, but bungles it, ending up in the hospital, and Anna is rescued and fostered by the local sheriff while she acclimates to society. She befriends the sheriff’s younger brother who becomes her companion, and is assisted by a wild man living in the woods. Her adjustment to the world of school and parties is interrupted by disturbing physical symptoms of her transformation into something else (and a new set of instincts that cause her to tear out the throat of a bully who tries to rape her).

Just as Anna is learning more about her origins and true nature, she is suddenly thrown in jail for the bully’s murder. She escapes, and takes off into the wilderness. She is pursued by law enforcement, but more dangerously by a group of wildling hunters, including her so-called “father” (now recovered from his botched suicide attempt and having learned no lessons whatsoever). In a final confrontation, she unleashes her animal self and triumphs over her former captor, free now to fully become the wildling she was meant to be.

I finally got around to watching Jordan Peele’s Us, which was so enthralling that it took me awhile to notice what a perfect Girls Underground story it is (silly of me since the movie begins with some text describing underground passages!). Then while watching some of the special features, I was absolutely thrilled to hear Peele mention “there are several stories involving a woman or a young girl going to this other land that inspired some of the imagery in this movie” and then name-dropping Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, and the Nutcracker, all Girls Underground examples!

SPOILER ALERT (since it’s impossible to really talk about this film without them).

Adelaide suffered a traumatic, terrifying experience in a funhouse as a child, and this experience starts coming back to her when, as an adult, she goes with her family to the same beach on vacation. Her family is attacked by a group of doppelgangers, led by Adelaide’s double, the Adversary. She fights them along with her husband and children (as companions) until the Adversary kidnaps her child and takes him far underground, where she must go to rescue him and confront her double. However, in a sense this story is what I call a “reverse” GU (where the girl starts out in the otherworld and comes to the “normal” world), because we find out that Adelaide and her double actually switched places as children, so the woman we’ve been viewing as the protagonist was originally from the otherworld and journeyed above, taking over the life of the “real” girl. Which means that the Adversary was herself a Girl Underground in the beginning. It all makes for a very complex, morally ambiguous, and intensely creepy version of the archetype.

I Am Mother, directed by Grant Sputore, isn’t immediately an obvious Girls Underground story but I think it nonetheless qualifies. Since it’s pretty much impossible to talk about this movie without spoilers, the following will contain some.

A girl, known only as Daughter, is raised in an elaborate underground bunker from birth by an android called Mother. Supposedly she is the first of a new race of humans who will be created to replace the now-dead population after some kind of worldwide disaster. She lives in isolation until one day a surviving human woman comes to the door, and Daughter makes the possibly rash decision to let her in, contamination be damned. Except, as she will find out, there is no contamination, and much of what she has been told is a lie – as well as what she is told from here on out, because neither the Woman nor Mother can really be trusted. She struggles to discern which of them is the Adversary, but ultimately it is Mother, and Woman becomes her companion – but one who will betray her with lies. When Daughter finally escapes, she is drawn back to the facility (sans companion) in order to rescue her brand new baby “brother”, a common quest for a GU. Mother tries to win her over but reveals herself to be a much larger Adversary than even expected. In the end, Daughter doesn’t quite “defeat” her Adversary as much as make a convincing appeal that she can go on repopulating the earth without her – and while Mother accepts this, it is also shown to be part of her plan all along.

I Still See You is a classic GU story, and while overall it’s a pretty mediocre movie, it does have a somewhat interesting premise that sets it apart just a little.

Ronnie, a teenager, lives in a world adjusting from a strange and devastating event 10 years prior, when some kind of scientific experiment went awry and killed millions… leaving impressions of those killed to constantly recur in certain spots on a repeating loop. They call these ghost images “rems” (for remnants). Ronnie’s own father is a rem, appearing regularly at the breakfast table, a painful reminder of his absence in her life.

In this world, just seeing a ghost is not enough to qualify as unusual or scary – but Ronnie has been noticing new rems, which is supposedly impossible, and one of them appears to be threatening her.

Guided by a helpful teacher and assisted by the “weird kid” in school, she discovers the story behind this malevolent ghost and embarks on a dangerous journey into the forbidden zone (the radius around the original accident) to find some answers. There is an initial hint of betrayal by a companion, and then a much worse one that reveals a feint as to the identity of the Adversary. Nothing is what it seems in this world filled with ghosts, and ultimately Ronnie is left to fight her Adversary on her own.

kojoI actually decided to watch The Burial of Kojo simply because I love magical realism and the trailer drew me in. Didn’t actually occur to me to look at it from a Girls Underground perspective until 3/4 of the way through, when someone tells the protagonist that time is running out to rescue her father. click! Then I thought back through the rest of the film and ultimately decided that while this hits a lot of the right notes, it’s really more of an honorable mention, not only because she has no companions but because of the ending.

It’s hard to discuss this movie in a GU context without giving away too much. Suffice to say there is a distant mother, guidance from a stranger that propels her into a mythical realm of sorts, an otherworld that is upside-down, and an Adversary who shows up both in this world and that one, in different guises. Esi is special, for sure, although she only understands how when it may be too late.

On a side note, Girls Underground stories often reference others of their type. I have to wonder if this particular shot from Kojo (top) was a deliberate reference to an extremely visually-similar shot from GU classic Pan’s Labyrinth (bottom).

bkpl

51mzgr5m+hl._sl160_Just watched M. Night Shyamalan’s movie Split for the second time, and not sure how I missed it last time (maybe just too mesmerized by McAvoy’s many characters and defaulting to viewing him as the protagonist) but it’s definitely a Girls Underground story as well.

Teenaged Casey, already set apart from her peers due to her childhood trauma, and an orphan, is kidnapped along with two other girls and held underground in a labyrinthine network of tunnels. While it may seem that her kidnapper is her adversary, in a way all of the other personalities are merely minions to the true adversary, the Beast. She is drugged and must fight to remember who she truly is, and the lessons of her past. She is sometimes aided by someone from this otherworld (Hedwig) but cannot trust him. She loses her companions one by one and ultimately must face the Beast alone, equipped with only a boon gifted to her by a wiser, older lady. In the end, while she prevails, she may not want to go home again.

next_genThe new animated Netflix movie Next Gen fits the Girls Underground archetype quite solidly, and was enjoyable although not spectacular (I especially appreciated the little dog companion Momo).

Teenager Mai lives in a futuristic city where everyone seems to own a robot. Her father left when she was a child, and her mother is now extremely distracted by technology (a very modern and relevant take on the classic GU distracted parent). After being dragged along to the launch party of a new robot, Mai wanders off and finds a secret lab and makes a connection with a special robot, 7723, before being separated from it. We are also introduced to the CEO of the tech company, who is clearly the Adversary and has nefarious plans for his robot minions.

SPOILERS BELOW

Eventually 7723 tracks Mai down and she strikes a bargain with it, hoping to use its powers to vanquish her enemies at school, but as time goes on they develop a friendship, and she comes to realize 7723 is damaged and cannot keep all the memories they are creating together. Meanwhile, the Adversary is searching for his lost prized robot.

When the Adversary finally strikes and kidnaps Mai’s mother, 7723 is unable to help, having deleted his weapons systems in an attempt to create more memory space. Mai views his inaction as a betrayal and goes off alone to rescue her mother. She confronts the Adversary, only to discover a fraud and the true Adversary is revealed.

7723 makes a big sacrifice in order to help defeat the Adversary but at the last minute is disabled, and Mai must face it alone. She saves the day, but her companion now has no more memories of their time together, and they must start from scratch.

nutcracker

It’s interesting to note that sometimes, an adaptation of a Girls Underground story ends up being even closer to the archetype than the original. Shows that at least subconsciously, people understand the Story they are working with. I covered The Nutcracker (ballet based on a novel) briefly, many years ago. Now the new Nutcracker and the Four Realms (movie very loosely inspired by ballet based on a novel) has taken the GU symbolism up a notch.

Clara, a young adolescent girl, receives a mysterious locked egg-shaped box as a gift from her recently deceased mother. At a lavish Christmas party that night, she is guided by a magical thread placed by her godfather, through his labyrinthine house and straight into the Otherworld – ostensibly to find the key to the box, but of course there’s much more going on. She meets a guardian at the gate (the titular Nutcracker, a live boy on this side of the looking glass), who leads her to the palace where she learns that she is a princess, and her dead mother was the queen of this land (and in fact, made everyone in it real when before they had only been toys).

But of course, not all is well in the Otherworld – of four sumptuous realms, one is controlled by the dangerous Mother Ginger and her army of evil mice. Clara must find her key, defeat the adversary, and save the realms. As her companions, she has the loyal nutcracker, and the regents of the other three realms.

This is all pretty standard GU fare (especially once she gets sucked underground in the dark forest), but it gets even more on point when there is a betrayal, and a revelation, and a whole new adversary and minions to battle. And of course, because in the end Clara prevails due to the strength of her own spirit, believing in herself, and being clever. She returns home much greater than she once was.

This movie has been getting pretty bad reviews, but I found it quite charming with a few truly magical touches (and I didn’t go into it expecting anything more than a visually-appealing, fun adventure). There are some wonderfully sinister clowns and carnival sets in the Land of Amusements. The Mouse King is a creature made up of a million swarming tiny mice, which was pretty effective. The ballet performed in the Otherworld was striking. And of course, I love that she is guided like Ariadne by a golden thread through a labyrinth, with the hallways of the house transitioning around her until she exits from a hollowed out tree trunk.

magicmirrorMagic in the Mirror is a 1996 kids film produced by Charles Band (who has done hundreds of very cheesy, very weird horror movies for adults) featuring anthropomorphic duck animatronics reminiscent of Howard the Duck, which just about tells you everything you need to know about this movie.

Mary Margaret, a little girl with very distracted parents, receives her grandmother’s antique mirror as an inheritance, and manages to walk through it into another world. For some reason, this world seems almost entirely populated by creatures called Mirror Minders and the aforementioned anthropomorphic ducks (who have human-like arms instead of wings and fly by flapping their capes). The evil duck witch queen likes to drink tea made from boiling people alive (so it’s one of those kids movies, not pulling any punches to shield young minds from horror). Mary Margaret meets some guides/companions, is captured, rescued by her imaginary friends (who are pixies on this side of the mirror), and encounters the true Queen who is some kind of fairy or something, and while not as evil as the duck queen, not very nice either. The Queen punishes Mary’s companions by “planting” them and will only reverse the process if Mary defeats the duck witch.

In the end, Mary’s mother is really instrumental in defeating the Adversary, demoting this one to an Honorable Mention in my book – along with the fact that both of Mary’s parents realize, in the end, how distant and distracted they’ve been, and resolve to be more attentive, which is also somewhat contradictory to the Girls Underground story. However, in a final nod to the archetype, Mary discovers that she is part of a line of Mirror Minders herself (her grandmother being the previous one), and returns home with a new sense of sacred duty.

There is apparently a sequel (Magic in the Mirror: Fowl Play) but I think I can skip that one.

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.

The Oracle


THE GIRLS UNDERGROUND STORY ORACLE - tapping into the Power of Story for guidance and insight. Learn more here.

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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