By Karen Kemmerle
Tribeca Alum Ti West knows how to pick his leading ladies: Vanessa Horneff in The Roost; Jocelin Donahue in The House of the Devil; and now, Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers. Sara Paxton, a budding veteran of the genre, really comes into her own as Claire, an adorable, gawky and neurotic slacker, whose boredom and obsession with ghosts -- to put it mildly -- lead to eerie and perilous consequences. She appears in almost every shot of the film, and it is through her point of view that the audience enters the realm of the paranormal.
Paxton’s electric turn in The Innkeepers is not her first foray into the horror genre. Her role as Mari, the battered heroine of the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left, proved that she has the chops to become a series genre actress. In The Innkeepers, her doe-eyed beauty contrasts starkly with the dull and eerie surroundings of the Yankee Peddler. (She recently appeared in Shark Night 3D as well, but hey, nobody’s perfect.)
In honor of Sara Paxton’s compelling genre work, here are our picks for up-and-coming horror ingénues that are well on their way to becoming new age scream queens.
Director Chan-wook Park, the horror genre darling of South Korea, could not have picked a more fitting leading lady for his first vampire film than Ok-Bin Kim. Thirst, a gory and wild ride, begins with the kind-hearted Sang-hyun (Song Kang-ho), a priest who turns into a vampire after a medical experiment goes badly awry. Struggling with his newfound craving for blood and carnage, Sang-hyun finds a soul mate in Tae-ju (Kim), the young and beautiful wife of a friend who is only too happy to sate his appetites. Their love affair is the stuff of nightmares, and Kim’s performance is mesmerizing. The tilt of her head, the glint in her eyes, and her blood-splattered face all contribute to her convincing portrayal of a woman who kills freely and revels in her conquests. As the complicated Tae-ju, Kim also manages to convey the complex nature of a character who is simultaneously a victim and an aggressor. Even though Thirst is her only horror film to date, Ok-Bin Kim, at the tender age of 24, is someone to watch.
Amber Heard is one of the most exciting new talents in Hollywood. Her recent roles in Drive Angry (opposite Nic Cage) and The Rum Diary (opposite Johnny Depp) may be signaling a departure from the horror genre, but it is important to remember where she got her start. In All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Heard (as Mandy Lane) ably handles the difficult role of the girl who is essentially perfect -- beautiful, smart, inherently good -- the type of woman a man would kill to be with. This performance took the horror world by storm and led to Heard’s brief but horrifying turn in Zombieland as the short-lived (ha!) object of Jesse Eisenberg’s affection. John Carpenter, the man who gave Jamie Lee Curtis her screen debut, even cast Heard in his last movie, The Ward, and we predict that Heard is just starting to make her mark in the horror genre.
Danielle Panabaker has certainly come a long way from the television movies and Disney channel series of her teenage years. Something about Panabaker makes her naturally watchable, even in the misguided remake of Friday the 13th. In The Crazies, Panabaker gets the opportunity to expand her range as a horror actress. She appears as Becca, the typical girl next door who rather untypically gets caught in the middle of a killer virus epidemic. With all her loved ones gone, Becca must travel to dark places and fight for her life. Her standout scene takes place in a carwash, but you won’t find any spoilers here. Panabaker, like Heard, was even recruited by John Carpenter for The Ward, his first film in almost ten years. While Panabaker usually is not a survivor (she often suffers grisly ends), her upcoming role in Piranha 3DD might just bring her “final girl” status.
Amy Seimetz is the thinking man’s version of a scream queen. Frequently working with some of the most interesting voices in independent film like Joe Maggio, Adam Wingard, and Joe Swanberg, Seimetz brings the elusive “real girl” quality to her roles. While she is a supporting character in both Bitter Feast and Silver Bullets, her breakout genre performance is in A Horrible Way to Die, where she plays a recovering alcoholic that just happens to be the ex-girlfriend of a serial killer. Seimetz is heartbreaking as the victimized Sarah, who is just starting to move on when her ex-boyfriend escapes from prison. As more people begin to die around her, Sarah lives in terror with only the support of her new friend, Kevin (Swanberg) to depend on. Seimetz deftly navigates a difficult role as she slowly comes to realize that nobody is what he or she appears to be. Seimetz has seemed to channel these roles into another creative outlet, and she is currently in pre-production for a thriller that she will write and direct entitled Sun Don’t Shine. She already has our tickets sold.
One of our favorite British imports is MyAnna Buring, the petite, wide-eyed actress who combines beauty and ferocity. Her ethereal looks enhance her aura of vulnerability in Neil Marshall’s The Descent, a film that graphically portrays the horrors that ensue after a caving expedition goes terribly awry. Buring proved she could navigate the tricky blending of horror and comedy in Vampire Killers, and her most recent performance in Ben Wheatley’s brutally unsettling film, Kill List, is gaining Buring some well-deserved attention. She is unrelenting as Shel, the needy Swedish wife of an ex-military man (Neil Maskell) who is as cruel as she is kind. With their savings dwindling, Shel, a former soldier herself, encourages her husband to return to work as a hitman rather than finding a 9 to 5 job. Their fights are vicious and physical, but their relationship endures. Buring is electrifying on screen as she runs an incredible gamut of emotions: from anger to bliss to fear and back again. Buring will appear next as a vampire in the final film of The Twilight Saga, but we won’t hold that against her.
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