*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
How does one recognise a shewolf? A literal man-eater at the whim of the moon, perpetually haunted by her nature as a beast? Her threatening presence lurks the Buenos Aires subway in Tamae Garateguy’s Mujer Lobo (Shewolf, 2013), unapologetically reclaiming a space where women are harassed and/or assaulted on the daily.
Although she has also been a producer and director for a diverse number of projects, her predilection for suspense, sensuality, alluring and dark ambiences has found a special place in her horror/thriller features, Mujer Lobo, All Night Long (co-directed with Jimena Monteoliva, 2015) and Hasta que me desates (Until You Untie Me, 2017). The Argentinian director also collaborated with a segment for the Women in Horror Month’s Massive Blood Drive PSA back in 2015. Titled All Night Long, the piece was a collaboration with Jimena Monteoliva, who also produced Mujer Lobo.
Certainly, Mujer Lobo captures the eye with relentless effectivity from the onset. It opens with a woman in bondage, her fake eyelashes distracting from a transparent tear that starts to travel down her temple. She has been intricately restraint with white rope and gagged with black fabric. The camera remains fixed on her as a man travels in and out of the frame while fondling her, underscoring a helplessness that becomes almost unbearable as the seconds go by. Manhandled by her partner, she seems to comply with a serenity that intrigues, her eyes almost devoid of expression or strategically looking elsewhere, hitting the viewer with bewilderment at what seems to be a questionably consensual bondage encounter. Laying on her side as he leaves her on the ground, her expression is fully rendered: a frown drawn on her face, eyes wide open and looking towards the ceiling, mouth agape as she breathes rapidly. The act has taken this man a minute at most but we’ve already been captive in the solitude of that small frame, incapable of averting our gaze from her. Violence is brought front and centre and it lingers to an uncomfortable degree.
A few minutes after, at ease in a big and bright kitchen before us, the man has sat down to have breakfast. He wears a white coat over a suit – is he a doctor? He ignores the woman he had restrained moments earlier, breaking his silence by asking her not to smoke in his place. His turf, his rules. But not for long. Breakfast turns out to be his last meal: he convulses on the floor further to the back of the frame, gasping for air after being poisoned. The big bad wolf of a woman finally lights her cigarette, closer to the camera. Only five minutes in, the power relations have shifted at the click of the lighter.
Mujer Lobo is a black and white feature that complicates the main character by turning her into a trinity. This is, the woman that seduces men in the subway to then kill them is played by three actresses: Mónica Lairana, Luján Ariza and Guadalupe Docampo. It is worth noting that this she-wolf is not given a fixed name, as she changes it throughout the film. This choice is at times disorienting and estranging. Whether one wants to concede to her literally shape-shifting or whether one understands these avatars as metaphorical devices to convey different personality traits, the trinity of actresses render the character in a perpetual in-between and fluctuation. This is established at the beginning. After being presented to her first incarnation (the bound and gagged Mónica Lairana) the viewer is introduced to Luján Ariza, a blond and outgoing woman that confidently approaches a construction worker catcalling her.
A few moments later, the third incarnation of this she-wolf is unveiled. She is played by Guadalupe Docampo, a demure and younger woman that shivers scared as a man approaches her at a park. Shivering, she listens to his predictable small talk as he asks her out, but she declines. He’s convinced she has dressed up and sat there for him to come over –but after facing rejection, calls her frigid to her back. The pigtailed Docampo is aligned with an innocence of sorts and gives in to fear of pain with more frequency in the film as all three facets swap constantly, escalating in their voraciousness and portraying Ariza and Lairana as the wildest incarnations.
It is evident that all iterations of the character are strongly shaped and defined by their proximity to the men in their lives, who often eroticise them in their helplessness by asking them to beg, cry, or insulting them in the middle of sex. The attitudes of men in her daily interactions –be it in private or public spaces– hints at the entitlement they feel towards her body. Throughout the film, the she-wolf’s three avatars take advantage of this, feasting and revelling on their animalistic impulse to kill, toying with male desire to satisfy a need. Furthermore, this unfolding of three avatars turns into a survival tactic when she goes home, once more, with a man that approaches her in the subway. But this time it is different.
The man approaches her casually, saying she looks like a movie star. He makes excuses of not wanting to be a creep while violating her private space. She accepts the sleazy invitation to follow him home, where he imposes as he did before. He fondles her violently, as the situation escalates into him insulting her, asking her to cry as he masturbates and ejaculates on her. She knows it is time to feed and spikes his drink while he is unaware, but the tables turn and he threatens her with a gun. More than one would argue that she had it coming, as the character has been established as a man-eater that goes around hunting and killing men after having sex with them. However, only the spectator has access to such information. It is easy to dismiss that the incident depicts two adults engaging in consensual sexual engagement only to have one of the parts threatened in her safety. That the man, unaware of her intentions, approached her first and took her home with an ulterior motive of violence. Garateguy conveys that such a risk is not as much of an anomaly as it is a reality.
This incident triggers the most explicit entangling of all three facets as she runs away from the unhinged man in absolute fear, only to be helped home by a young man that puts her to bed safe. Her assailant, however, becomes obsessed with hunting her down. The film intimates that he is a policeman, fixed on taming and obliterating the she-wolf. He envisions having sex with her with dehumanising violence as he masturbates seeing the case’s pictures, terrorises her on the phone. However, she finds a haven in a tender affair with her young rescuer, with whom she unfolds in all three personalities: he is the only man to ever be in the presence of all her faces.
Ultimately, the policeman finds her but she severs his jugular with a single bite after catching him unaware in his car. But a price must be paid. She gets home to find her lover dead after having consumed poison –which she had used on some other victims–, mistaking it for a drug. Howling for her loss, rabid and unhinged at his death, all three avatars mourn and burn the corpse. After this brief trial though, the she-wolf is back on the streets and in for the kill.
Mujer Lobo plays with its central character being both victim and victimizer. To that end, form flirts with content and the she-wolf is portrayed as callous and bestial but also as a product of her circumstances. The narrative devices that lure us into the killing spree of the she-wolf are reminiscent of works that were famously exploitative in their rendition of female sexual agency and “bad girls.” We are reminded of the scandalous Chained Girls (1965) by Joseph P. Mawra, a cult piece of docu-fiction about lesbian life in 1960s New York that lends itself to visual reference in the urban settings of Buenos Aires. There is also a subdued echo to the rapid tunes that follow the willful Stacey Kane (Meg Myles) in Jerald Intrator’s Satan in High Heels (1962), the sexy incarnation of the figurative, seemingly overconfident man-eater. Garateguy’s choices seem absolutely aware of sexploitation conventions, at times offering an unobtrusive but lurking camera that follows the main character, as well as almost voyeuristic renditions of sexual encounters. Here, the genre allows the film to revel in excess and employ the raunchiness of these vocabularies to have this woman display both fury and vulnerability.
This excess is thoroughly conveyed when she goes home with a musician that she has met (or hunted?) in the subway. While giving him oral sex, her hands with long dark nails hold on to his backside. All of a sudden, his squeals reveal that she has bitten his penis off. The noxious but alluring character of the femme fatale has literally castrated her partner and rubs the blood on herself, unrepentant. This passage underscores the she-wolf’s voracity, cruelty and animal-like proclivities. She’s a monstrous presence that conflates woman and beast, while providing a visual metaphor of how female sexuality is constantly aligned with animosity.
Garateguy’s portrayals acknowledge and adopt the sensationalistic conventions and preconceptions of the female monster as an entity that justifies patriarchal control and policing of her sexuality. Yet, these devices render a fuller character that is neither a saint nor an unhinged beast, and pose a more complex set of circumstances wherein the she-wolf vindicates, at least partially, the animalization of women by claiming her body back and feeding it men for literal sustenance. As she takes matters into her own hands and unfolds into different parts of her personality, she also suggests a nature that lurks between animality and humanity. Although the film does build on stereotypical modes of performed femininity and relies heavily on its explicitness, its rawness underscores the possibilities of the female werewolf as an imperfect but at times justified vigilante. She embraces the monstrosity ascribed to female sexual desire to shift the power exercised on her to an almost exaggerated extent. Still, she also embraces those potentialities to exact a targeted revenge on the structures that justify and even call for her humiliation and obliteration –and does so tooth and nail.
by Valeria Villegas Lindvall
Valeria is a Mexican ghoul living in Sweden. She is a PhD student in Film Studies at University of Gothenburg, where she is currently conducting research about Latin American horror film with a feminist focus. She is also part of the editorial board for MAI: Feminism and Visual Culture, journal founded by Dr. Anna Backman Rogers and Dr. Anna Misiak, and has also worked in several publications, most prominently at Rolling Stone Mexico.
Categories: Feminist Criticism
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