1. “Single White Female”
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As early as 1992, the schlocky thriller directed by Barbet Schroeder was exploring the murkier waters of female obsession, but it quickly became the gold standard.
That it was saved from being a trashy, throwaway film is thanks to the title’s snappy, ready-made slang (which was amusingly lifted from classified ad parlance). Also, thanks to Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bridget Fonda’s full-throttle performances.
To create the tension, “Single White Female” takes an everyday situation (gal needs a flatmate) and turns it up to eleven. From there, everything goes to the edge (this roommate wants to kill me and take over my life).
While the film’s exciting and often explosive fight scenes didn’t skimp, the emotional turmoil that preceded them was both bonkers and genuinely chilling. A memorable outing involved a meat hook and a screwdriver. In fact, it’s so great that its terrible tagline, “Living with a roommate can be murder,” can be overlooked.
Just might be the definitive story of teenage obsession this century, one made with unrelenting care and enduring cleverness by Melanie Laurent’s gorgeous, twisted and confident second directing effort.
However, despite the fact that Laurent’s leading ladies — relative newcomer Joséphine Japy and radiant Lou de Laâge — are not sexually involved, their instant physical and emotional bond occasionally veers into murky territory in order to amp up the well-earned emotion and tension.
It’s a slow burn tale of teen obsession with some major rewards, trapped in a friendship that slowly spins out into something ugly and abusive (and even bigger questions).
3. “The Neon Demon”
To begin with, Ruby (Jena Malone), in Nicolas Winding Refn’s blood-soaked Hollywood nightmare, tries to be a good friend to young model Jesse (Elle Fanning).
Having good girls around is always a plus, Ruby muses.
The gold body paint that sleazy photographer Jack (Desmond Harrington) smeared all over Jesse during a particularly racy photo shoot still glistens on her body and face as she nods in agreement. A lovely moment has arisen. Ruby appears to take on a motherly role for Jesse, who might be struggling to find her way in her new profession.
After a short time, Jesse backs down, saying something to the effect of “I’m not as helpless as Ruby thinks.” He then stalks away from Ruby, who has become concerned.
A few years later, Ruby’s warnings prove prophetic as Nicolas Winding Refn’s outrageous (and frequently hilarious) horror film investigates the consequences of female competition, professional jealousy, and what happens when “good girls” turn out to be… very bad.
Every woman Jesse meets (from Ruby to Christina Hendricks’ new agent to a pair of amusing fellow models played by Abbey Lee and Bella Heathcote) turns on her quickly and completely as she ascends to “it” girl. Although it’s a horror movie, the story has a clever and obsessant turn to it.
4. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
A pioneer of the “psycho-biddy” subgenre, Robert Aldrich’s 1962 thriller manages to cram commentary on all kinds of infatuations, from ageism to professional rivalries, Hollywood to arrested development, even a sad ode to dead parakeets, into one compelling package.
This film’s overriding theme, however, is that only one sister will be able to make it in the competitive music industry.
When it comes to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s rivalry, it’s funny and horrifying because they use it to serve Baby Jane and Blanche, who are both utterly deranged and willing to do anything just to get on top of each other.
Although this story seems to have been written for two obsessed sisters, Davis and Crawford met off-screen as well, putting the perfect cap on an enduring saga that only gets better (and more bitter) with time.
5. “Notes on a Scandal”
In a staid London comprehensive school, the arrival of Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) as a new art teacher shocks Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) into an obsession fit.
When the elder of the two finds out about Sheba’s scandalous affair with a younger student, Barbara chillingly uses it as the leverage tool to end all leverage tools. Sheba keeps Barbara at a distance despite Barbara’s attempts to connect.
In the Richard Eyre adaptation of Zoe Heller’s novel, the three main characters — Barbara, Sheba, and young student Steven — are driven to madness by their twisted obsessions. But it’s Barbara’s obsessions that keep the plot hurtling towards a wicked and terrible end in the Richard Eyre film.
6. “Heavenly Creatures”
While Peter Jackson’s 1994 fact-based drama had a raw undercurrent of sensuality and unfulfilled desires, “Heavenly Creatures” skillfully straddled the line between sexual obsession and tense friendships.
Whatever Pauline and Juliet’s relationship is, the end result is always one of obsession so deep that it leads to actual bloodshed. This is true no matter who Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) and Juliet are or what their relationship is. Following the fast and dangerous bond between slightly awkward Pauline and the stunning new student Juliet, the film follows the case of Parker-Hulme murder, which rocked New Zealand in 1954.
Pauline and Juliet become fast friends in a way that’s difficult to understand if you haven’t experienced the angst and hormonal rebellion of adolescence. In the event that they are forced to part ways, they retaliate by devising a plot to murder Pauline’s mother and flee, all the while hoping to achieve their mutual goals and literary aspirations.
They never meet again. The film’s chilling postscript is framed by the fallout from their crime.