Slasher films and Final Girls: How a sexual assault survivor found solace in an unlikely place
Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott in “Scream.” Screengrab.
By Melissa Carroll
Melissa Carroll is a freelance writer, poet, and yoga instructor from Tampa Bay. Learn more on her website.
To survive sexual assault is to enter into unknown terrain: the ground beneath, once familiar and firm, becomes shaken and uncertain. Like many survivors, Lauren Milici felt isolated, disconnected, and deeply alone after her attack. At 15, when other teenagers were exploring their identities and relishing in their youth, Milici was grappling with PTSD. As she says in her essay “Saved by the Final Girl” on BirthMoviesDeath.com, “There wasn’t anyone in my personal life that I could connect or relate to, so I turned to the fictional world in an effort to cope.” Through fictional narratives she discovered solace and strength in a very unlikely place: slasher films.
Specifically, she connected to the Final Girl characters. In the horror subgenre of slasher films, the trope of the Final Girl is the survivor — the one who suffers extreme trauma, who fights, who outwits the killer, and who gets away last. While Milici, who grew up watching “The Twilight Zone” and “The Adams Family,” always found horror movies entertaining, it wasn’t until she endured her own brutal assault that she connected personally with Final Girls.
Milici never witnessed a truly powerful female role in a horror movie until a few short months after her attack, when she saw Sally Hardesty onscreen in the original version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” blood-drenched and battered by the end but most certainly alive. Milici saw herself in the heroine. Finally, someone she could relate to. This sparked a newfound connection to horror movies, which has been pivotal for her journey of recovery.
In her essay, Milici poses the poignant question, “What does it mean for a female with PTSD to watch a strong woman kick slasher ass onscreen?”
For Milici, it means identifying with the various Final Girls she watches: their nuanced personalities remind Milici of her own positive qualities, and their survival reminds Milici of her own resilience in the face of danger. Milici told ivoh, “When you finally hit the point where you decide, ‘Okay, I don’t want to be like this or have these nightmares anymore,’ the healing sort of finds you. Horror found me. The Final Girl found me when I needed her the most.”
The most therapeutic Final Girl for Milici has been Sidney Prescott from the “Scream” franchise. Throughout the four movies, the heroine braves horrific violence and lives to tell the tale each time. Milici suffered a second sexual assault, three years after her first. Prescott has become a beacon for Milici. “Not only to do we get to watch [Prescott] survive; we get to watch her cope,” Milici writes. “Watching her move forward helped me find it in myself to get out of bed every day, and eventually write about my own experiences in hopes of making someone else out there feel less alone. Being a survivor of assault is the loneliest thing I have ever experienced.” By rooting for the Final Girl, Milici can root for herself again and again. And by writing about her past, she can reclaim power over her story and reclaim her own identity as a Final Girl.
As for fear, these days Milici has the stance of a woman warrior. She’s already confronted real-life villains — twice — and crawled out alive. She joked with ivoh that she now feels immortal, because she’s undergone so much trauma already. In addition to Final Girls, Milici has found another therapeutic modality in an unlikely place. She has moved to a rural part of the country to attend an MFA program in creative writing, where she also receives Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, which she says is “the absolute best thing I have ever done for myself. I didn’t expect to find it in such a small town.”
In the final installment of the “Scream” franchise, Sidney Prescott writes a memoir about her story of danger and survival, which also mirrors Milici’s own healing narrative. By writing about her own experience and coping methods, Milici has uncovered another layer of empowerment. Through her poetry and nonfiction, Milici explores themes of sensuality, fragility, and power.
“There’s a strong relationship between your art and your body,” Milici said. “Sometimes you write about it because you have to, because your body wants you to, because your stomach knows you’re ready before your brain does. I think about Sidney Prescott on her book tour in Scream 4, and it makes all the sense in the world.”
After Milici’s essay about her relationship to Final Girls was published, she received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. Women contacted her and opened up to her about their own experiences. Through Milici’s words, readers found a connection to fictionalized heroines, and ultimately to their own resilience. “Most recently,” Milici told ivoh, “a woman emailed me her own story of survival and thanked me for reminding her of strength and making her feel less alone. She must have thanked me over a dozen times throughout the entire email and I lost it. I sat at my desk and cried. I sometimes forget that my work has the potential to reach or impact other people. Being a part of someone’s healing process, be it a friend’s or a stranger’s, is rewarding in a way that I can’t even begin to explain. Helping them heal helps me heal, too.”
Related: How Allison Cole explores gender, sexuality, and consent through games | How the Silent Evidence Project helped a reporter confront the trauma of sexual abuse and share her own story | How writers can help remove labels that overshadow trauma of sexual abuse