By Erin Caine
It’s not your imagination. Lately, there’s been a surge in mind-bending thriller stories centered on genuinely engaging female characters. Recent and popular psychological films featuring women in lead roles such as “Gone Girl,” “Room,” and “The Girl on the Train” have piqued public interest in seeing related stories, opening the genre to more nuanced and complicated portrayals. These films reject both the idea of a heroine inevitably compromised by “hysteria” and the need for a woman to be unquestionably “good” in order to be considered worthy of sympathy or redemption.
This new brand of dark thriller with women at the forefront toys with those conventions and ultimately tosses them aside in favor of more varied, human, morally gray women. Recent shows like BBC America’s “Killing Eve” and HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” both based off of novels by Luke Jennings and Gillian Flynn respectively, have managed to capture viewers’ attention with their own unique take on the genre.
“Eve” is a stylish cat-and-mouse spy thriller about an MI5 officer chasing a global assassin, while “Objects” is a Southern gothic mystery about a string of murders in a small town. The complexity of the shows’ heroines isn’t just in the smart writing, but also in the directing and masterly performances.
Amy Adams in “Objects” gives what is perhaps one of the most compelling performances of her career as Camille Preaker, a traumatized and emotionally turbulent reporter who returns to her childhood home in the Missouri town of Wind Gap to investigate the murders of two young girls.
Though the dialogue is cutting, candid, and without fluff, through Adams’ physical performance, alone, viewers can discern the nature of her relationship with her pearl-clutching mother and subtly oppressive home town. “Objects,” moreover, doesn’t shy away from honest discussions of self-harm, mental health, and society’s inconsistent expectations of girls and young women.
Camille impresses herself so strongly on the audience because, while she is often depicted as standoffish and cynical, we come to deeply understand her behavior the more we understand the true nature of Wind Gap and the Preaker family’s social role.
“Killing Eve,” which wrapped up its first season in May, quickly managed to propel itself into the public eye due in large part to the mesmerizing chemistry and growing mutual obsession between its two female leads, played by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer.
Oh’s performance as Eve Polastri becomes increasingly unpredictable as the character discovers a hidden dark side to herself — something we can see bubbling beneath the surface of her initially ordinary demeanor. Recently, Oh has snagged an Emmy nomination for her portrayal. Maureen Ryan of Variety said in her review that Oh’s ability to convey her character’s dueling “grounded morality and repressed frustration,” as well as her “subversive streak,” is what truly makes “Eve” work.
Comer as the assassin Villanelle, meanwhile, flawlessly portrays one of the most transfixing female antagonists in recent memory. She’s a cold-blooded killer with a childish side; everything she does is done gleefully and with style; her twisted sense of humor emerges in the most unlikely places. Though she is unapologetically a psychopath, she still somehow garners our endless fascination. In truth, it is because she is unapologetic that we like her so much.
“Eve” is a show that refuses to spin a narrative about a straightforward hero versus villain, order versus chaos, instead opting for a more complicated dynamic between two enigmatic and often chaotic women. It leaves us wondering, even at the end, about who these women really are beyond the information we’re given, and what they’re truly capable of in the seasons to come.