A couple of days ago, someone on Twitter asked uesers to share the films in which they began rooting for the villain. I was immediately taken back to my premiere night viewing of Shane Black’s 2018 The Predator...
*WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS*
Five Men, One Woman
The Predator attempts to balance comedy with sci-fi and terror. There are several instances of comedy attempts throughout the film – usually landed by comedian Keegan-Micheal Key, who plays the comic relief character of Coyle. One of the memorable scenes of the film, known as the ‘hotel scene’, occurs after the Fugitive Predator escapes the Project Stargazer lab. In an attempt to stop the Predator from escaping, Casey (Olivia Munn) tries to shoot it using a tranquilliser gun but ends up accidentally shooting herself on the foot due to standing on the bus where the main group of men were being held. This leads to protagonist Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) taking Casey with him as they also escape the area.
The hotel scene begins with a shot of an unconscious Casey surrounded by knick-knacks as well as Coyle and Nettles (Augusto Aguilera) trying to make Casey’s surroundings comfortable. However, they are immediately stopped by Quinn. Casey finally wakes up with a confused expression on her face, after all, she is greeted by five unknown men staring at her. Quinn states, “Hello sunshine,” to which Casey is irritated by. Things heat up when Casey immediately grabs the shotgun nearby.
In an attempt to defend herself from an arguably horrifying situation for a woman, the reaction of the men is laughter. Coyle then asks the others to pay up, implying that the group were theorising and placing bets on how Casey would react when she’d wake up –– it’s a game for them, but a terrifying situation for Casey.
Quinn approaches Casey, claiming that she won’t need her cellphone or the shotgun. He attempts to take away the shotgun from her, but it ends up resulting in a struggle. A fair representation of a woman’s constant battle with the patriarchy. Literally, the struggle represents Casey justifiably not trusting the group and fighting for her life. This is why Casey pulls the trigger, which surprises Quinn and receives gasps from the group watching the struggle.
Quinn turns to the group with a ‘Can you believe this?’ glance that triggers more laughter from the group. Notice Casey’s confused expression. Quinn forcefully pulls the shotgun from Casey, then roughly flicks her nose.
As a last attempt, Casey attempts to run to the door but is then stopped by Nettles while Quinn states, “You’re not going to last a day out there.” At this point, Quinn has Casey’s ID card that allowed access to the lab, which further implies that he invaded her privacy and looked through her belongings.
In a full auditorium on premiere night, this scene received loud laughter. However, I was troubled by Black’s abuse of the only female character in the main group. In a situation where a woman wakes up to five strangers staring at her, some who are smiling at her, this would not be hilarious.
Casey as Image
We are introduced to Casey as she arrives to Project Stargazer. She had been invited due to her groundbreaking work as an evolutionary biologist. Dr. Peter Keyes (Jake Busey) is excited to meet Casey and mentions that he’s heard she “basically wrote the book on evolutionary biology.” This establishes Casey as a very intelligent woman in the science field that is known to be male dominated. Before Casey meets the group, she proves to be a strong character as well by navigating through the lab with the Fugitive Predator on the loose. She does everything she can to stop it from escaping. However, during the hotel scene, her previous status seems to disappear.
In Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey writes:
‘Traditionally, the woman displayed had functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium, with a shifting tension between the looks on either side of the screen.’
Once Casey begins to calm down during the hotel scene, Baxley (Thomas Jane) exclaims “Eat your pussy!” due to his Tourettes. The strange thing about Baxley’s Tourettes is that it manifests when it needs to, which is probably why Black particularly chose to write the character this way. It allows for the character to be explicit and vulgar for humorous effect and, in this case, as an indicator that Casey’s true purpose was to be an erotic object.
Casey begins to manifest as an erotic object for the spectator during an earlier scene where she must undress and undergo decontamination before entering the room where the Fugitive Predator was being held. The decontamination occurs twice. The first is between Casey and Dr. Keyes. The second occurrence is when the Fugitive Predator kills off all the remaining scientists and Casey attempts to escape but is denied because she must go through decontamination again and undress. It’s almost distressing to see a woman unable to escape to her freedom unless she undresses, even though there is a monster right on her trail. Unsurprisingly, the Fugitive Predator is aware of Casey’s presence and joins her in the decontamination scene. It stands in front of a naked Casey, watches her for a couple of seconds before deciding to let her be and break down the doors to escape.
Quinn Controls the Narrative
Mulvey also states; ‘The man controls the film phantasy and also emerges as the representative of power in a further sense: as the bearer of the look of the spectator, transferring it behind the screen to neutralise the extra-diegetic tendencies represented by woman as spectacle. This is made possible through the processes set in motion by structuring the film around a main controlling figure with whom the spectator can identify.’
When we are introduced to Quinn, he is in Mexico for a rescue mission. Camouflaged, Quinn watches the drug cartel members and proceeds to make a bet with his other two team members on whether the cartel members or the hostages will be executed. After being attacked by the Predator on that same mission, Quinn undergoes a psych evaluation before being boarded onto the bus with the main gang. Through these events, Quinn is established as a macho, intimidating soldier.
Back to the hotel scene, notice how it’s Quinn that interacts with a terrified Casey. It’s Quinn who prevents Coyle and Nettles trying to make Casey’s surroundings comfortable. It’s Quinn who initiates the struggle for the shotgun. It’s Quinn that almost manipulates Casey by exclaiming she wouldn’t last a day out of the hotel alone.
In the same scene, Quinn has Casey’s ID card that allowed her access to the lab, which further implies that he invaded her privacy and looked through her belongings. As Casey contemplates staying with the groups, Quinn asks “Do you think you’re special?” as a response to the gained knowledge that Casey is a scientist. Lastly, Quinn tells Casey that the people from the lab were going to “put a bullet in your head,” then throws her belongings to her and tells her “See you around.” By doing so, Quinn controls the narrative and manipulates Casey into joining the group.
While the hotel scene is noted as one of the humorous scenes of the film, it also marks the moment Casey falls victim to what Mulvey writes as ‘Woman as Image.’ It also establishes Quinn’s role as what Mulvey refers to as the ‘active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process).’ In other words, ‘The character in the story can make things happen and control events better than the subject/spectator…’
Sometimes the Real Villains are the Screenwriters
To answer the question addressed to Twitter, I began rooting for the Predators. As the group begins to be picked off one-by-one, it was satisfying to watch.
Even outside the character of Casey, Munn suffered. Black had quietly hired his friend Steven Wilder Striegal for a small role in the film. The scene Striegal filmed was him as a doctor hitting on Casey. Note how the only lead woman has to deal with constant flirtation from men in this film. What Black hid was that Striegal is a registered sex offender. When Munn spoke out, none of her male co-stars backed her up except Jacob Tremblay. Busey spoke in defence for Black, wishing that Munn had waited to speak up because, as a result, Black was in tears at the red carpet. The film, as well as the men involved, are more concerned with upholding the patriarchal standards than the suffering of women.
There is a problem with men writing ‘strong female characters.’ Rather than embrace their unique characteristics, male screenwriters tend to rely on misogynistic thinking and undermine the female character. Besides the example of Casey, another infamous example is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’s Mantis and James Gunn’s constant degrading of one of the most powerful characters in the MCU.
The Predator relies on the deep roots of misogyny and offensive tones for its humour to land successfully. From sex jokes, to having male characters flirt with the only female character, to the dangerous undertones of the hotel scene. Black abuses the character of Casey while using her suffering as the opening for harmful sexist jokes.
by Emily D’Gyves
Categories: Feminist Criticism