I don’t know how many women I’ve seen murdered and brutalized on screen. I imagine that’s common among horror fans. So the question I have is this: Can a genre largely built upon terrorizing women be effectively used to examine that same violence in the real world?
Recent films like Happy Death Day and The Invisible Man come to mind when we consider this. Although Happy Death Day seems to be commenting more on the seemingly endless on-screen depictions of murdered women than any real-world violence, The Invisible Man is an incredible example of mining classic Universal horror films to examine the horrors of domestic violence. Somewhere in between we have Lucky.
Directed by Natasha Kermani and written by and starring Brea Grant, Lucky retools the Groundhog Day formula — used to comedic effect in Happy Death Day — to give viewers a sort of cinematic dissertation on the everyday threats that women experience. And it wastes no time getting to the premise.
Protagonist May Ryer, a struggling author of business advice books for women, is awakened by the sound of a home invader. Jostling awake, May’s husband casually responds to her pleas with the energy of a tired parent debating who will go check on a crying infant.
“Honey, that’s the man… He comes every night and tries to kill us,” he says so matter-of-factly that it becomes unnerving.
From here we get the general thrust of the film. Every day May is attacked by a mysterious intruder. She finds a way to kill him. He vanishes. Everyone acts like this isn’t a serious problem.
May’s insistence that her daily attacks should be addressed in some significant fashion are brushed off by everyone in her life. Her husband goes to stay with his parents after May’s initial panic. The police assure her she’s “lucky” to have not been raped and ask that she “stay calm and vigilant.” And the other women who she confides in offer up a mere “You’re so brave” before asking the same question as everyone else: Is there someone you can go stay with?
Throughout the film, May continues to fortify her home and arm herself with anything that will fend off her attacker, who always manages to vanish shortly after he is mortally wounded. This continued vigilance gives a nod to Nightmare on Elm Street as May begins to gorge on caffeine pills and coffee in order to stay awake. Of course, the constant effort to survive steals focus from her professional life.
Echoing the detectives, May’s literary agent tells her she’s “lucky” that her publisher has ordered another book. Exhausted from nightly combat and clutching a hammer, May informs her agent that she isn’t “lucky.” She’s earned everything she has, professionally. At this point, I flashback to a roomful of my female editors rolling their eyes at the introduction of the term “lady boss.”
Just when Lucky feels like it’s about to fall into a repetitive rut, the movie pulls things back. May realizes that other women in her life are experiencing the same constant attacks and aggression. May saves her assistant from an assault, only to inform the assistant that she took the risk to fend off the attacker because they know each other.
This is around the time the movie stops winking at you and just hits you in the head with the duel hammers of symbolism and metaphor. At this point, you’d be hard pressed to separate the text and subtext, but at least it’s a film that has a clear message in mind.
This somewhat reminds me of the movie Peeping Tom, which was released the same year as Psycho. Of course, one of these 1960s films about preying upon women went on to become an undeniable piece of cultural history and the other is Peeping Tom.
This lesser-known picture follows a serial killer who films the murders he commits, even going as far as to attach a blade to the leg of his camera’s tripod. It’s not subtle, but as Garth Marenghi said, “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards.” If anything, Peeping Tom serves as an acknowledgment of what audiences wanted to witness. This fact was only reinforced by everything that came after.
For me, the truly frightening things are those we find to be a part of life. The vulnerability of childhood. The ignorance of adolescence. The guarantee of loss over time. To recognize human nature is to face horror.
What Lucky does that has stuck with me is to offer no solutions. The film’s protagonist — despite her career as a motivational author — can’t provide anyone with a way to escape the near constant threat of daily life. As she admits, she can’t even escape it herself.
We are so used to our final girls slaying their attackers that the ending of Lucky feels a bit unsatisfying. That’s because it should be.
You should want the unyielding aggression to ebb. You should want a tidy conclusion where everyone sighs in relief. But that’s not reality.
With Lucky we are reminded that nothing is more horrific than when terror is just the way things are. And horror films can be more than just a meat grinder. They can be what they’ve always been: A look into the lives of those who make them. And a look at ourselves.