Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Horror, The Fall & violence against women

Last night, the final episode of BBC2's The Fall aired (if you're still watching or haven't finished it yet, then it's best you don't read this post - massive spoilers ahoy). It was easily the best thing on TV in a long time and goes to show there's a demand for well-acted, scripted, shot and directed stuff rather than a constant glut of karaoke singers with sob stories murdering awful songs.

It was also pretty violent. The thing is, you say 'violence' to some people and they assume you mean limbs being hacked off and blood flying everywhere. Apart from one bloody murder, this wasn't the case with The Fall. The physical violence was in beatings and strangulation for the most part. And here's the other thing...all bar one of the murders involved a woman. And all were deeply unpleasant.

The set up is pretty straightforward: a young, successful woman has been killed in Belfast. After a few weeks, the Law's no closer to finding the killer than they were straight after the murder, so they bring in Stella Gibson (a superb Gillian Anderson playing a woman who might be Scully's long lost sister given up for adoption and raised in Britain) from the Met to lend her expertise. It's not long before the killer murders another woman and the plot's set for an investigation that hopes to find the killer as quickly as possible as well as taking in the politics of a British women investigating an Irish murder, police corruption and the potential for the killer's wife and kids to find out what he does at night. Because that's the unusual thing. The killer, Paul, isn't some lone nutcase sitting in his own filth and cackling. He's a calm, friendly guy who works as a grief counsellor. He's got two children and he loves them and his wife. Problem is, he's also a serial killer.

The series was successful enough for the Beeb to announce plans for a second one. However, not everybody thinks this is a good plan. Among various reviews I've read online, some of the comments have said it was too slow and the fact that at the end - MASSIVE SPOILERS BUT THEN I SAID THAT EARLIER SO WHY ARE YOU STILL READING - Gibson doesn't catch Paul. She's got an idea who he is and some leads but he still gets away. This pissed some people off. Other comments didn't care about the pace. They cared about the violence. Specifically, its brutality against Paul's victims.

Now, I've already posted here and in guest posts about violence (against women or not) and I don't want to repeat myself, but. . .

The world can be an ugly place. Horrendous acts can be carried out without the person doing them seeming to give a shit. Or worse, actively enjoying their cruelty and evil. People like me (horror writers) and the people behind The Fall put our characters through terrible events. I've destroyed, beaten and killed men, women and children in my stories. I've been doing that for years and the chances are, I'll carry on doing so. It's what I'm designed to do, along with maybe giving my characters a way out (or maybe not). The Fall was brutal and frightening and all the things it should have been if it was to treat its audience as adults. Adults should know how ugly life can be. They should know that if someone is being murdered, chances are they'll scream and struggle and fight back if they can. To pretend otherwise or to suggest television as an art form should overlook this is to deny the darkness in life. We should celebrate the light in our lives, but let's not pretend the darkness doesn't exist. In all its foulness, its ugliness, and its charming face of a nice, family guy who kills women, that darkness exists. We need to see it and, maybe sometimes, see ourselves from its side.

Because denying it, as shitty as it is, is to lie to ourselves. And if you don't believe me, watch the news.


  1. I think the problem for me comes because violence against women specifically is so often used as cheap shock or titillation. It is a real thing that happens, yes, but so many shows use it in a borderline erotic way which really puts a person off.

    Perhaps the dislike of the violence here is because it doesn't? Because we're used to seeing violence against women used as a marketing/cheap drama/titillation thing and something that really rubs in our faces that these are people being killed is uncomfortable?

    1. Good point. I made reference to an 80s horror film called Pieces in a guest post recently. That definitely portrayed its violence against women in a sexual (more porny than erotic) way and it was awful. Made me want to apologise for being a man. A comment re The Fall I saw a few times was that it invited the viewer to witness the killings through the murderer's eyes which I personally didn't feel. For me, the focus was from the victim's POV which made it more uncomfortable.

  2. I thought it was refreshing, in a weird way, to show violence against women in such a stark, brutal, unsexy way - with all the fetishism removed. It's horrible, and we should feel uncomfortable watching it. It reminds us why we fear violence.

    Of course, all the horror was offset considerably by Ms Anderson. Rawr.

    1. Yes, it was very stark. Everything from the lighting to the music to the actual acts of violence were presented with very little embellishment - as it should have been.

      And I thought you would approve of the casting.