When horrific scenes of rape and abuse are filmed by women, are they emulating misogynist male directors, or bringing empathy and new perspectives?

About one hour into Holiday, the writing-directing debut of Swedish film-maker Isabella Eklöf, there’s a scene in which a young woman who has joined her drug dealing boyfriend and his entourage in a Turkish resort on the Aegean is subjected to harrowing sexual abuse. Another young woman is raped, twice, in the opening scenes of The Nightingale, second film from Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent, of The Babadook (2014) fame. In the last few years we’ve also seen the heroine of Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge (2017), violated and left for dead by her lover and his buddies, an art student sexually abused in Natalia Leite’s M.F.A. (2017), and a medical student raped in Jen and Sylvia Soska’s American Mary (2012).

What these films have in common is not just the sexual violence against female characters, but that they’re directed by women. What’s going on? Why can’t women make nice films about cookery, kittens, or quilting? Surely they’re not trying to beat men at their own game, by showing they can abuse their female characters just as horribly as any misogynistic male auteur? Are these scenes really necessary?

Women naturally have an intimate relationship with blood, pain and physical transformation … Violent thrillers provide ideal frameworks for female film-makers to address these themes

Related: After The Babadook: Jennifer Kent's new film tackles Australia's violent colonial history

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