PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020): Director Emerald Fennell

© 2021, by M. Keith Booker

Promising Young Woman, the debut film from British writer/director Emerald Fennell, is a highly topical work that deals with a number of important contemporary issues surrounding troubled relations between the genders at the beginning of the 2020s. A British-American co-production, it is also a highly accomplished work of postmodern art that features impressive performances while participating in a number of different genres and keeping audiences on their toes with frequent, sometimes jarring, tonal shifts. It’s also something of a puzzle film, keeping audiences engaged in an ongoing attempt to put together the clues it offers in order to figure out exactly what is going on, while leaving some important questions ultimately unanswered.

Released near the end of 2020, Promising Young Woman was one of the most talked-about films in 2021, primarily because of its exploration of the highly topical (and triggering) topics of rape culture and the sexual objectification of women. In this, Promising Young Woman joined a growing group of recent films by women directors that have treated similar topics, often within the context of the rape-revenge film genre. On the other hand, films such as Anna Biller’s American film The Love Witch (2016) and Coralie Fargeat’s French film Revenge (2017), not to mention Promising Young Woman, also significantly update the rape-revenge genre for the #MeToo era.

Promising Young woman also drew attention because of the impressive performance of British actress Carey Mulligan as Cassandra “Cassie” Thomas, the promising young woman of the title. Actually, “once-promising” might be more accurate, because Cassie’s life has been derailed due to the trauma caused by the rape of her friend Nina Fisher, a fellow medical student, seven years earlier. Unable to get any sort of justice for (or even acknowledgement of) what happened to her, Nina was eventually driven to suicide. Cassie, as conveyed by Mulligan’s convincing and nuanced performance, was also seriously damaged by her friend’s experience. Forced by this trauma to drop out of medical school, she now works in a coffee shop and lives at home with her parents. She seems to have no real direction in life, devoting herself primarily to seeking vengeance on predatory men—possibly to the extent of becoming a serial killer, though she remains relatable and sympathetic throughout.

Most critics raved over Mulligan’s performance, which won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. However, the film also drew extra attention when one critic, Dennis Harvey, complained in his (mostly positive) review of the film in Variety magazine that Mulligan was miscast in the role. Mulligan responded with an angry charge that Harvey’s review was sexist and that what he was really saying was that she was not “hot” enough to play a seductress figure such as Cassie. Variety then added an apology to Mulligan on its website above Harvey’s review, though Harvey remained unrepentant, pointing out that, as a sixty-year-old gay man, he was not particularly concerned with the hotness of young women. Meanwhile, Variety’s apology triggered even more controversy, with some criticizing them for not apologizing strongly enough and others criticizing them for apologizing at all.

Of course, this controversy was made more serious by the fact that it arose in conjunction with this particular film, in which the treatment of women as sexual objects, with potentially devastating results to the women involved, is the central concern. The film gradually fills in details about Nina’s experience, making it clear that she had not only been raped by fellow med student Alexander “Al” Monroe (Chris Lowell) while she was too intoxicated to resist, but that a number of Monroe’s friends had watched the event and cheered Monroe on, regarding it as amusing entertainment. One of them even recorded the rape on video to be circulated as entertainment for his friends. Subsequently, Nina had sought action against her rapist by the school, but both the school and police (and most of Nina’s fellow students) concluded that the details of the crime were not clear enough to take action against Monroe that would likely end his career in med school and possibly send him to prison.

When we first meet Cassie at the beginning of the film, she herself appears to be helplessly drunk, slumped semi-conscious on a bench in a club. Then, Jerry (Adam Brody), a “nice guy” at the club with friends, offers to see Cassie home safely. He then suggests on the way that they stop by his place for a nightcap. There, he immediately sets about trying to take advantage of her inebriated condition. When she suddenly reveals that she is not intoxicated after all, Jerry freezes in shock and terror. Indeed, one repeated motif in the film involves the way in which men, confident and blustering when they think Cassie is helpless, crumple so easily into weakness (and even tears) when she reveals unexpected strength.

The end of this first encounter is particularly indicative of the way Promising Young Woman is constructed. For one thing, the film proceeds at an extremely crisp pace. The entire encounter in Jerry’s apartment lasts just a bit over two minutes of runtime, and almost all of the major scenes of the film unfold in a similarly rapid manner, perhaps suggesting Cassie’s sense of time and events unfolding around her at a dizzying pace. This pacing also creates a sense that we have observed a film that is packed with action, even though very little action actually occurs on screen. Thus, after we see Jerry’s stunned reaction to the revelation of Cassie’s sobriety, we don’t actually see what happens next. Instead, the film immediately cuts to the opening title, presented in cheerful bright pink, on a screen decorated by pink hearts. Then, the acting credits appear, one at a time, in this same bright pink, accompanied by the up-tempo music of “It’s Raining Men,” the 1982 disco hit from The Weather Girls, but in a cover specifically recorded for the film by then-teenage Goth rocker DeathbyRomy[1].

This cover gives the song just enough of a slightly dark edge to create a bit of uncertainty about how we are to interpret this song, despite the bright pink colors. Throughout the film, though, there is often a disjunction between the bright music and color scheme and the dark subject matter, creating a sort of Brechtian estrangement effect that interferes with our complete emotional engagement in the film’s highly emotional subject matter, asking us instead to back off and think about the material intellectually[2]. This effect is enhanced by the fact that so little real violence is shown in this seemingly very violent film. We never see Nina’s actual rape, for example, just as we never see what happens to Jerry after Cassie reveals that she is sober.

The bright, pink-dominated color scheme of Promising Young Woman.

The logic of much Hollywood film, of course, dictates that Jerry is violently murdered by Cassie, an interpretation that is furthered by the fact that, after the cut away from Jerry’s face and to the film’s title, the next thing we see is that title with the bright pinkish-red color of the letters beginning to run down the screen, perhaps like melting candy, though it is more likely that those who are familiar with certain types of films will interpret the running colors as emblematic of dripping blood. This reading, meanwhile, is enhanced as we see Cassie walking along the sidewalk with what is apparently a splash of blood running down her white blouse and another running down her leg.

The melting title of Promising Young Woman suggests dripping blood, as does the rivulet of red on Cassie’s leg.

It seems pretty clear at this point that we are meant to assume that Cassie has murdered Jerry in bloody fashion. At the same time, the film has yet to introduce Nina’s experience, so we have no way of knowing what might have motivated Cassie to undertake such violence. Moreover, we next see that, as Cassie walks along, she is messily eating a hot dog that is liberally dripping ketchup. Are the rivulets of red on her body and clothes really Jerry’s blood, or are they actually just ketchup?

The film will never answer this question in an entirely definitive way, though there is a moment later in the film when Cassie encounters one of Jerry’s friends, who thinks she is drunk, then suddenly realizes that she is sober. He then puts two and two together and declares her to be “that psycho that Jerry took home,” probably suggesting that Jerry has shared his experience with her with his friends, indicating that he did, in fact, survive the encounter (though it could possibly suggest that Jerry was, in fact, killed and that this friend has now simply concluded that Cassie must have been his killer). By the end of the film, it is not clear whether Cassie has ever killed anyone, though we soon discover that she routinely picks up men much in the way she picked up Jerry. In fact, she keeps a journal of her numerous encounters with predatory men, complete with color-coded tally marks and a list of their names. We will never learn, however, just what this journal means or what the colors indicate.

Such uncertainties abound in Promising Young Woman, again possibly indicating the uncertainty with which Cassie negotiates daily life in her traumatized condition, though one of the nuances of the film is that this condition does not render her helpless or inert. In fact, she is still quite capable of taking strong and confident action, even if it ultimately brings her little satisfaction or healing, thus avoiding the simple and easy path of depicting her as a victim, while at the same time refusing to heroize her as a sort of avenging superhero who can fully recover from her trauma, simply by seeking revenge.

Soon after the first scene with Jerry, Cassie experiences what might be taken as a parody of the typical Hollywood “meet cute” scene when Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham), another former fellow student of Cassie’s, happens into the coffee shop where she works. Ryan embarrasses himself by inadvertently insulting Cassie (for having such a lowly job) while he is just trying to make conversation, after which he invites her to spit in his coffee in retribution. To his surprise, she spits liberally into the drink; to her surprise, he accepts the coffee anyway and takes a big swig. She nevertheless turns him down when he asks her out, clearly preferring to limit her social life to her program of revenge.

Soon afterward, Cassie executes another club pickup by a purported “nice guy”—to whom she reveals that she does this sort of thing every week but whom it is fairly clear she doesn’t murder. This encounter is a bit longer than the one with Jerry, but at five minutes it maintains the quick pace of the film. Within the next few minutes, Cassie has an awkward encounter with her parents on her birthday, gets asked out again by Ryan, and this time goes out to lunch with him. Ryan, now a successful pediatric surgeon, seems to be a genuinely nice guy, and there are signs that he is beginning to break through Cassie’s protective armor with his boyish charm. But Promising Young Woman is not a film in which things happen in a simple fashion, and the Cassie-Ryan relationship will not proceed smoothly.

One sign of the complexity of Promising Young Woman is that Cassie seeks revenge, not only against abusive men, but also against the women who enable them. Just over half an hour into the film, we see the first of five sequences that are labeled with tally marks like those in Cassie’s diary, sequences that each indicate a stage of Cassie’s program of direct revenge against those who were involved in Nina’s rape and its aftermath. In the first of these, Cassie has a luncheon meeting with her former classmate, Madison McPhee (Alison Brie), who has continually denied that Nina was raped ever since the actual event, perhaps because she now lives a comfortably affluent life as the wife of a successful man, with a social circle that still includes several people from med school. At the lunch, Madison suggests that Nina was at fault for being such a heavy drinker—even as Madison herself is in the process (with Cassie’s encouragement) of getting falling-down drunk[3]. Cassie then has a man she has hired for the purpose take Madison to a hotel room and put her in bed. Madison wakes up not knowing whether she has been raped, thus presumably learning a lesson about vulnerability and helplessness, though Cassie, in a later meeting, ultimately assures a frantic Madison that nothing happened with the man, though she lets Madison twist in the wind for a considerable time. Most viewers likely believe Cassie’s claim that nothing bad happened in that hotel room, but the film nevertheless leaves open just a bit of doubt, a doubt that one suspects might linger in Madison’s mind as well. Meanwhile, it is not clear just what sort of traumatic effect this “lesson” might have on Madison going forward.

Brie plays Madison as a rather pretentious and unlikeable sort, which makes this episode a little easier to take, despite the obvious problem with the logic of Cassie’s vengeance here, especially given the seed of doubt that has been planted concerning just what happened to Madison in that hotel room. After all, we have already been given a suggestion that Cassie might be a serial killer, so we are not really sure just what she might be capable of. The film’s next numbered episode, meanwhile, is even more problematic, as Cassie ostensibly arranges for a teenage girl to be handed over to a gang of rowdy med students who live in the same dorm room where Nina had been raped. This girl, it turns out, is the daughter of Dean Elizabeth Walker (Connie Britton), the same dean who had failed to follow up on Nina’s report of being raped years earlier. When Cassie pays a visit on Dean Walker to inform her that her daughter m now experiencing the same fate as Nina, there are some very tense moments when we are not quite sure whether Cassie is telling the truth, though she quickly assures the dean (and us) that the girl is quite safe and that Cassie has only constructed this episode to make clear to the dean just how easily bad things can happen to young women in our current culture.

Of course, the film presents no evidence that the girl is, in fact, safe, so we have to take Cassie’s word for it. By this time, though, most viewers are probably invested in Cassie, thanks to Mulligan’s winning performance of the character. Therefore (and especially in the absence of any evidence to the contrary), most viewers are likely to believe this later explanation and to conclude that the girl is safe. Moreover, most viewers are likely to be relieved to be able to believe that Cassie would not put a young girl in such danger.

 Incidentally, when Cassie visits Dean Walker, she gives her name as “Daisy,” which I take to be a possible reference to Mulligan’s performance as Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Taken as such, the reference to that film within Fennell’s film draws attention to the problematic way in which Gatsby’s seemingly romantic pursuit of that other Daisy represents an objectification of her as a commodity to be acquired for his possession. But, if Cassie’s adoption of this name is, in fact, a reference is to The Great Gatsby, it is a fairly obscure one that might be missed by most viewers. It is also more of a clever wink toward Luhrmann’s film than a serious engagement with it, indicating the odd texture of so much of Promising Young Woman, which can be quite playful and amusing, despite its dark and disturbing subject matter. Some might feel that this insertion of cleverness and comedy threatens to undermine the film’s very serious and important message, but one could also argue that this mixture of moods helps to indicate the fragile and confused state of Cassie’s psyche.

In the third numbered segment of the film, Cassie pays a call on Jordan Green (Alfred Molina), a lawyer who had helped defend Al when Nina had attempted to bring charges against him. Indeed, Green appears to have worked for a law firm that specialized in defending men against such charges, largely by discrediting and intimidating their accusers. When Cassie arrives at Green’s door, she tells him that it is his “day of reckoning,” which (to her surprise) he appears to welcome. Indeed, when she speaks with Green inside, she finds that he is a contrite, broken man who has ceased to practice law out of guilt over cases such as Nina’s. Unlike Dean Walker, Green even remembers Nina’s name (or at least her first name). In this case, Cassie leaves without enacting revenge, apparently feeling that Green is already suffering enough. Then we find that she has a hired thug waiting outside, but she calls him off. Thus, by demonstrating that she can show mercy, Cassie continues to win our sympathy. Moreover, the very fact that she has hired such a thug suggests that Cassie herself is not violent, adding to the suspicion that she has not actually killed anyone.

The positive arc of Cassie’s characterization continues in the next scene, in which she pays a call on Nina’s mother (played by Molly Shannon) at her oddly idyllic, all-American home, which serves as another example of visual settings in the film that seem a bit out of sync with the emotional subject matter of the film[4]. The mother urges Cassie to move on and to stop lingering on Nina’s tragic end. Soon afterward, Cassie is shown deleting the social media account she had been using to stalk her victims, then throwing away her notebook. The implication is clear: she has decided to take the advice of Nina’s mother and to discontinue her project of revenge.

This change in direction also enables Cassie to rekindle her relationship with Ryan, after which the film transforms into what is essentially a romantic comedy—though, in keeping with the generally fast pace of the film—this entire segment lasts only seven minutes, a bit more than halfway through the film. This sequence includes such ultra-cute moments as Ryan’s surprisingly adept lip-sync to Paris Hilton’s “Stars Are Blind” in a pharmacy, intercut with subsequent classic rom-com moments of their growing attachment, accompanied by this same track. We then see the obligatory dinner with Cassie’s parents, followed by the ultimate declaration of mutual love, after which Cassie seems to have found a road to happiness.

Just as we are beginning to believe that Cassie might have found true love and might be headed for some genuine recovery from her trauma, Promising Young Woman suddenly swerves in another direction, as the plot of the film continues to echo the emotional rollercoaster that is Cassie’s continual experience. Madison shows up at the home of Cassie’s parents, where Cassie assures her that nothing happened with the man in the hotel room. Unfortunately, she also delivers to Cassie a phone containing a copy of the video of Nina’s rape, Cassie having previously been unaware of the existence of the video. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, Cassie watches the video and discovers that Ryan had been one of the revelers cheering Al on during the rape. That relationship thus destroyed, Cassie resumes her program of revenge, moving the film into its deadly final stages.

The scene in which Cassie receives the video from Madison is also indicative of the particular self-conscious artistry of this film. It takes place in the living room of the parents’ home, where which the bizarre Baroque décor—perhaps more at home at the Palace of Versailles than in a modern American suburban home (except for the portrait of a German shepherd over the fireplace)—possibly suggests the cluelessness of her parents. We’ve seen a few shots of the home before, and until this scene the décor seems only slightly odd, perhaps like something from the 1950s, suggesting that the parents may be out of step with the times. But this living room takes that motif to an entirely new level, to the point that one has to wonder whether what we are seeing is more symbolic than literal. I take it, in fact, as a sign of just how unreal and wrong the entire texture of life feels to Cassie, whose trauma makes it difficult to process the world around her in a normal way. She lives an uncomfortable, dreamlike existence, in which nothing seems to be quite the way it should be, and this strange décor visually captures that fact.

The living room in the home of Cassie’s parents.

Immediately after she views the video, we see a shattered Cassie staggering through a parklike area, on her way to confront Ryan at the hospital where he works. Music, as so often in this film, plays a crucial role here, as her walk is accompanied by the eerie lullaby-like “Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly.” The other-worldly song feels perfect for Cassie’s mood in this crucial scene, though its significance goes well beyond its mere sound. In particular, this song was originally used on the soundtrack of the classic 1955 noir horror film The Night of the Hunter, a film that we had earlier seen Cassie’s parents watching on the television in their home. We even see a snippet from near the beginning of the film in which Robert Mitchum’s blood-chilling, murderous preacher Harry Powell drives along in a stolen jalopy, talking to God about the offensiveness of “perfume-smelling things, lacy things, things with curly hair.” This scene of the film is not the one that contains “Once Upon a Time There Was a Pretty Fly,”[5] but Powell’s misogynistic rhetoric in this scene is quite indicative of his hatred of women in general, which makes The Night of the Hunter a perfect companion to Promising Young Woman and the issues it raises.

Cassie breaks off her relationship with Ryan and meanwhile uses the video to coerce him into revealing the location of the bachelor party for Al’s upcoming wedding. Then, in a fourth numbered segment (indicating that Cassie has resumed her sequence of direct vengeance), she poses as a stripper and shows up at the party, eventually maneuvering Al into taking her upstairs to a bedroom where they can be alone. When Al realizes who she is, he panics and struggles with her, eventually suffocating her with a pillow. It is clear that Al regards her death as an accident, though the film leaves it for us to judge whether it should be regarded in this way. It also eventually becomes clear that Cassie, in fact, intended for Al to kill her: we learn, by the end of the film, that she has arranged for the police to be alerted to her death. As the film ends, police interrupt Al’s wedding to arrest him for her murder, after having found evidence that Al and a friend attempted to burn her body to dispose of the evidence. (In one nice touch, Al is steered away in handcuffs by a woman police officer.) As the film ends, it is also given a final (very contemporary) touch as Ryan, attending the interrupted wedding, reads scheduled texts from Cassie that she has pre-arranged for him to receive at this time. Her final texted words to him, showing on his phone in the reddish pink that has been a motif throughout the film, are:

You didn’t think this was the end, did you?

It is now.

Enjoy the wedding.

Love,

Cassie & Nina

😉

This entire last sequence plays out very rapidly, as is typical of this film. It is also accompanied by fitting music, Juice Newton’s 1981 Top-Ten pop ballad “Angel of the Morning,” which cleverly fits the moment with its theme of lack of remorse for previous “sins.” Just as Al has shown no remorse for what happened to Nina, Cassie is not sorry for the way things turned out or for what she did to Al. Nina’s experience has ruined Cassie’s life, and she has experienced no true healing from her program of revenge, leaving her with nothing to live for. Thus, while audiences might experience some moments of satisfaction at the various sorts of revenge enacted by Cassie, it is clear that she herself has experienced no lasting satisfaction from any of her encounters with strange men in clubs or with those directly involved in Nina’s rape. Al gets what’s coming to him (and maybe more—the film leaves that up to audiences to ponder), but neither Nina nor Cassie is around at the end to experience a moment of triumph. In any case, the film then ends with one more clever musical twist as the soundtrack shifts soon after the beginning of the end credits from “Angel of the Morning” to “Last Laugh,” a defiant hip hop declaration of feminine power by Fletcher, a woman artist probably best known for her songs “I Believe You” (2018), released in support of sexual assault survivors, and “Undrunk” (2019), which perfectly fits the plot of this film.

One could argue, of course, that Cassie’s plan of posthumous revenge plays out a bit too neatly, including the perfect timing of the pre-scheduled texts to Ryan. And one could also argue that the clever musical choices here and throughout the film undermine the revenge theme. But that, of course, would be beside the point. Promising Young Woman does not operate in an entirely realist mode. It is a complex film that attempts to balance self-conscious postmodern artistry with the delivery of a clear social message about the damaging effects of the objectification of women and the rape culture that this objectification engenders.

Meanwhile, even as it enters into the #MeToo-era dialogue about the sexual objectification of women, Promising Young Woman (in keeping with its status as a self-conscious work of art) also enters into an extensive dialogue with other films about similar topics. In particular, the film enters into a direct dialogue with the genre of the rape-revenge film, long one of Hollywood’s most controversial genres. Ever since the genre took shape with such pioneering films as Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) and Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1978), critics have treated the rape-revenge film with a certain distaste, often regarding it as a particularly degraded form of exploitation horror. On the one hand, such films have been criticized for the graphic and ultra-violent nature of the revenge; on the other, they have been charged with showing a certain lurid fascination with the rape that triggered the revenge in the first place.

Promising Young Woman certainly avoids both of these charges. Nina’s rape is not shown at all, while Cassie is never shown inflicting any real violence on anyone, though she does at one point take a tire iron to a pickup truck driven by a man who had been verbally abusing her. Moreover, its cleverly self-conscious use of details such as music and set design identifies Promising Young Man as a film with high artistic aspirations, as opposed to the gritty, low-budget texture of most films in the rape-revenge genre. In this sense, incidentally, Promising Young Man has less in common with films like I Spit on Your Grave than The Love Witch and Revenge, both of which clearly aspire to (and achieve) the condition of high cinematic art.

Biller’s film, like Promising Young Woman, employs a range of self-conscious (and sometimes comic) postmodern tactics. Its protagonist, Elaine Parks (Samantha Robinson), undertakes a program of revenge against men, not for a literal rape, but just for the generally shabby way she has been treated by men in her life, including her own former cheating husband. Using a combination of New Age witchcraft and her own formidable physical charms, Elaine (clearly unhinged from the treatment she has received) seduces men, reduces them to a state of simpering weakness, and then murders them[6]. At the same time, the film employs comic elements and an odd visual texture that anticipate those in Promising Young Woman in some interesting ways.

Fargeat’s film also provides a particularly useful comparison with Promising Young Woman, though it is a somewhat more conventional rape-revenge film. For one thing, the acting and set design of Revenge contribute in important ways to its aesthetic achievement, though this film eschews the postmodern comedy of Promising Young Woman or The Love Witch. Revenge does show the rape of its protagonist, Jen (Matilda Lutz), on screen, though only briefly and not graphically. Instead, it focuses more on the objectification that leads to the rape, with the camera adopting a sort of male gaze that mimics Jen’s ogling by the men in the film, one of whom will eventually become her rapist. It does, however, contain a great deal of graphic, bloody violence, both committed against Jen (even apart from the rape) and (even more) committed by her[7].

Jen emerges in Revenge as a physically powerful feminist avenger, as a certain cathartic fantasy of feminine empowerment. As such, she potentially provides a valuable reminder that women need not allow themselves to become passive victims, though it also contains an element of self-consciousness that makes it clear it realizes the action it depicts is not realistic. In The Love Witch, Elaine is also powerful, but in a damaged way that suggests the internalization of her sexual objectification by men, pointing out another important consequence of that objectification. Promising Young Woman, on the other hand, does show Cassie in some strong positions relative to men, who act as predators, not because they are strong, but because they are weak. At the same time, it demonstrates that we still live within a culture in which feminine empowerment is neither simple nor easy, while feminine trauma from sexual abuse remains very real.

By playing with the male gaze, Revenge reminds us that film has often contributed in significant ways to the sexual objectification of women. Together, The Love Witch, Revenge, and Promising Young Woman can all be taken as evidence of a changing cinematic landscape in which women directors such as the American Biller, the French Fargeat, and the British Fennell are beginning to mount an opposition to this legacy, while playing increasingly prominent roles in bringing women’s experience to film on an international scale. In particular, all three of these films are reflections of the changing environment in the #MeToo era in which the sexual objectification of women is beginning to be taken seriously in ways that might eventually help to counter that objectification.

NOTES

[1] DeathbyRomy, incidentally, also recorded a second song for the soundtrack, this one an original that she co-wrote entitled “Come Play with Me.” Here, as in most of the soundtrack, there is an ironic mismatch between the lyrics and the subject matter of the film, made more unsettling by the singer’s dark-edged performance.

[2] Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956) was a German dramatist whose plays often included surprising or discordant effects designed to distance audiences from emotional engagement in the action on the stage, causing them instead to view the action from an intellectual distance.

[3] Cassie herself manages to stay sober by secretly drinking ginger ale while Madison is drinking champagne. It is also possible that she has put something in Madison’s drinks, though that is one of many aspects of this film that is never made fully clear.

[4] Note that the house number of the mother’s home is 534, which might be a reference to Senate Bill S.534, which became law in 2018 and which was entitled “Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017.”

[5] In The Night of the Hunter, this song accompanies a tense scene in which two innocent children flee in a boat down a dangerous river, attempting to escape from Powell, who has killed their mother and plans to kill them.

[6] For a more detailed discussion of this film (in conjunction with the 2013 film The Witch), go to https://bookerhorror.com/from-calvinism-to-consumerism-the-persistence-of-patriarchy-in-robert-eggers-the-witch-2015-and-anna-billers-the-love-witch-2016/.

[7] For a fuller discussion of Revenge, go to https://bookerhorror.com/revenge-2017-director-coralie-fargeat/.