FAYE @Nashville Film Festival 2021
It is entirely possible that, 20 or 30 years from now, kids will be sitting in a UCLA Film School class reading their textbooks—assuming that they’ve finally moved on from The Total Filmmaker, sworn by by Scorcese and written by Jerry Lewis (yes, that Jerry Lewis, flohoyvin and so forth)—and they’ll be reading about a film that was screened at the Nashville Film Festival this year. Why? Because the film in question, is said to be the first one-woman horror movie in the genre’s history.
Now, granted, the directors and producers of the film are the ones saying it, and as such, they have a bone in the fight; that having been said, I did my own research (as loaded a phrase as that may be at this particular moment) and, other than a short film from 2007, I find no other contenders. There are horror movies led by women, and quite a few at that, but Faye is a horror movie that focuses on one woman, and more or less features one woman. We hear a few other characters on the phone, and the most we see of the sole male character is a leg. Otherwise, this movie is all one woman, all about one woman, and may well represent a new chapter in horror. What I wonder is whether or not the hardcore fans of the genre will accept it—for reasons that don’t have to do with gender.
The titular Faye, played by Sarah Zanotti (who also wrote the film with director KD Amond) is a successful author of self-help books, her magnum opus thus far being TLSC, which stands for Tender Loving (Self) Care. The author is at a difficult (suffice to say) moment in her life; her publisher is pressing for chapters of a new book—which chapters are overdue—and she is processing the recent death of her husband Jacob (the male leg we see at some point). The majority of the film finds her at her publisher’s guest cottage in rural Louisiana, trying to get those chapters written; in between extended scenes at the cottage are surreal intersitials of Faye on a small stage, before a red curtain, telling stories from her life. It’s never made explicitly clear what function these interstitials possess; I decided ultimately that Faye was providing her own Greek chorus.
When not providing her own Greek chorus, Faye is the center (well-nigh the entirety) of her own drama, and it’s riveting. The main events of the film are presented as five set-pieces, each framed by a title from her new book’s chapter. The first set piece is titled “When You Deny Change…You’re F****d”, and Faye’s life becomes an example of that. She’s trying to make this a normal time, writing and drinking copious amounts of wine, but given her recent loss, we know this cannot be a normal time—and it isn’t for terribly long. A record player in the cottage begins to play songs despite Faye being nowhere around to actually drop the needle. A patio door, when she unlocks it from the inside, re-locks itself immediately and (to the extent that this can be said of an inanimate deadbolt) aggressively. (In a one-person horror film, actually, a deadbolt can be hella aggressive.) These moments are warm-ups, however, for the truly disturbing incident in this set piece: Faye goes to bed and, being lonely and slightly drunk, decides to pleasure herself manually…until she feels a hand other than her own slapping her on the stomach, and leaving (as she and we discover via a bathroom mirror) a massive red handprint.
The second set piece is called “They Say Anger Is Poisonous, But It’s Cheaper Than Percocet,” and it finds our Faye getting mad at…well, she’s not sure, and neither are we, but at something, something that is (as far as we can tell) sentient, and hostile towards her.
Eagle-eyed readers may be noticing a trend; first there was Denial, now Acceptance—are Amond and Zanotti mic-checking Elizabeth Kubler-Ross? Yes, they are.
Increasingly drunk, she starts a live social media chat with her fans, in which she says that the secret to writing is getting drunk and being attacked by ghosts. Wandering through the house, she comes across a Ouija board, that eerie staple of many a sleepover, and tries using it to contact…that at which she is angry, ultimately yelling at it, taunting it. Here’s a protip: should you ever find yourself the protagonist in a one-person horror movie in which a supernatural entity is intermittently torturing you, taunting it is more or less your worst possible option. If you tell it to show you what it’s got, it will, and in Faye, it certainly does; Faye is, in response, attacked now by something she can plainly see, as can those of us in the audience. Is it a snarling demon? Is it a clown from a sewer? No, it appears to be… [redacted by editor].
Set piece three, as you know if you know your stages of grief, is bargaining, here titled “Everyone Wants a Bargain…Too Bad You Get What You Pay For.” Her reality is getting exponentially worse. Her now-horrified publisher (horrified, I should probably clarify, at Faye’s behavior) is demanding to see chapters or she’ll cancel the book deal, and Faye is still trying to write them—while also dealing with the malevolent, supernatural -ish force.
Faye is also beginning to reflect on her life, and Jacobs’s death. We’ve gotten vague flashes about it throughout the film, but we now learn that Jacob died in a car wreck. Why was he in the car? Simple: despite not wanting to, he’s on his way to see Faye win a book award, something she’s insisting on. After we learn this, there are more attacks from the malevolent, supernatural force, only this time, we see it quite clearly. This was a one-woman horror movie where the call has been coming from inside the house.
It’s here, I contend, that Faye moves in a direction not wholly common to horror movies. While most horror eventually does put its cards on the table—for example in the Friday the 13th series, we learn that Bro. Voorhees, for example, drowned at Crystal Lake while teenagers were having sex, etc—that’s usually little more than a setup for some kind of final showdown. If there’s a final showdown here perhaps Faye’s final showdown is with herself.
The fourth set piece, “Tonight’s Special…Déjà vu With A Side of Depression”, reveals the full story of the night Jacob died. We learn, as Faye remembers, that the fatal accident occurred at a traffic light while she and Jacob were arguing about even going to the ceremony.
The final set piece, simply titled “Hope?” is mostly an interstitial, in which Faye is now reading highlights from her new book, which she has, in fact, completed, having been confronted by grief and finally overcoming it.
Will horror fans accept the film? While horror here is as palpable and shocking as Messrs Kreuger and company, it is akin to something you and I and everyone else ever has experienced and will again. And you know what? I think Amond and Zanotti are really onto something here. Horror (and sci-fi) are often said to be metaphor for their times; have not we learned in recent years that very real, non-supernatural horror can exist right alongside us?