Tamara (2005) is a movie I remember vividly on the racks at Hastings-I was about 11 or 12 and very interested in horror. The reason, I think, is because horror is a landscape for the imagination. Every kid loves fairytales-the more gruesome, the better; horror is an extension of that imaginative playground. Literally anything could happen and does. I was drawn to the girl in red, holding an axe and crying blood-something had happened and she was going to make them pay for it.
Tamara Riley, a social-misfit and practicing witch is in love with her English teacher, Mr. Natolly. Being a non-sleazebag, he has no idea until she tries to kiss him after praising her editorial on steroid use in the school paper. Two popular boys (at least one, a jock) are pissed at her for writing it because it jeopardizes professional careers. Kisha, a bitchy popular girl dating jock-boy Shawn, sees Tamara make a move on Mr. Natolly, and a plan is formulated: lure Tamara to a motel pretending its her teacher and film her embarrassment for writing the article. Tragically, Tamara is accidentally murdered and the group (plus a few outliers thinking it was a regular party) cover up her death. On Monday, she’s back, she’s beautiful, and she’s pissed. Tamara’s real goal is Mr. Natolly’s love, but she extracts her revenge on those who killed her along the way.
Duality & Tamara-as-Temptress
Early on, Mr. Natolly talks about duality within humanity in class-we’re all capable of both good and evil. The question becomes: how far can one person be pushed? By day, Tamara is a mousy nobody and by night, a witch binding herself to the one man who’s kind to her: her English teacher. Tamara’s duality is also in her transformation via death-she is now dark, seductive, dressed always in devil red. I love her aesthetic-pointy witch shoes, and she’s the only character to wear red, which could symbolize love/passion/anger (or all three). Also, in her own fantasies about this moment, Tamara is not wearing red, but pink. Red comes after her death/resurrection. She’s also neither fully dead nor completely alive, so Tamara occupies a liminal state of being (common in horror, which I never fail to point out).
She represents youth/beauty/fertility against Mr. Natolly’s wife, who cannot conceive (and it was very uncool of Tamara to point that out). However, you have to think about the fact that Tamara is in her teens (teens are almost never actually teens in movies), so her sexualization is uncomfortable at the very least. It does seem like she’s the one sexualizing herself to attain what she thinks Mr. Natolly wants, but even the possibility of him ever being attracted to her makes me cringe. She’s a kid.
Mr. Natolly represents Tamara’s conscience (or perhaps conscience in general), acting purely out of kindness and good-heartedness throughout the movie, culminating into his suicide to save his wife from Tamara. Though Tamara is the is the focal point, she’s also barely in the movie-I would’ve liked to see her more in the role of antagonist.
Tamara is out for blood and pulling out all the punches, including ones below the belt. We see her make her father pay for his incestual desire towards her-she makes him eat glass (his alcoholism also drove her mother away). Patrick is a habitual rapist, drugging young women-he and his buddy, Shawn, have their reputations destroyed by having sex with each other-a rather homophobic “punishment” (horror at this point in time really wasn’t understanding of its own harmful biases yet or why a scene like this is a huge problem). Kisha tries to stop this, but Tamara turns her “greatest sins” psychic power on her to see she has an eating disorder: bulimia. It’s not okay the way Tamara uses people’s pain against them, especially with Kisha and Roger. Roger had a history of self-harm, which she ridicules and makes him “finish” his suicide attempts on air in front of everyone. Roger was the happiest to see her okay and genuinely apologized for the part he played. He got arguably the harshest punishment when he, like Chloe and Jesse, was lured to that ‘party’ under false pretenses.
So we have this dichotomy of the good-for-her movement in horror versus the bullied-becomes-bully pipeline. Power can make bullies of us all and turn us into what we’re not, the film seems to say. On the other hand, what happened to her was tragic and a horrifying ordeal, so she is their reckoning and they got what they deserved though deeply problematic in execution.
The Body as Destruction
This movie has great body horror moments but it doesn’t center around it. The body is used as a site of destruction because some people’s greatest sins are against themselves. We have Roger sawing off literal body parts-his ears, tongue, and eyes in response to self-harm. We have Kisha eating herself to death/forcibly vomiting in a sickening sequence because of her bulimia. Her nails also became shudder-inducing due to her biting them uncontrollably. Tamara’s body experiences rapid decomposition as she understands that magic has made her evil. (Side thing: there was so much queer subtext between Kisha and Tamara that goes unexplored. Chloe was originally supposed to have a crush on Tamara in the original script and its like, why are y ‘all afraid of lesbians?)
Sacrifice & Consent
Though an interesting character, Tamara’s motivations are juvenile-she may have died for Mr. Natolly, but that doesn’t mean she’s entitled to him. His heart is with his wife and furthermore, love spells have a serious lack of consent. Tricking someone via magic is never the way to someone’s heart, especially if they are in love with someone else. In Tamara’s defense, she is a teenager-her brain isn’t done developing yet. Doesn’t excuse her behavior or the cringe-y seduction dialogue, but it explains her deeply selfish mindset. Once prey, Tamara is now a predator on a healthy, loving relationship. This makes Mr. Natolly’s sacrifice for his wife’s safety mirror Tamara’s but also eclipse it because he’s acting out of unselfish love. All Tamara does is make mind slaves out of people and robs them of their free will. (I still wish she’d had more screen time anyway.) Also sad Kisha was never able to fulfill her implied apprenticeship via sequel.
I love Tamara because it’s 2000’s horror, which has its own distinct feeling (along with way problematic content, unfortunately)-this also somehow feels like Halloween. Ultimately, it’s a tragic story about a girl without comfort in the world, misconstruing a teacher’s praise for attraction simply because he was a decent human being to her. She turns to magic, which makes her pay a hefty price, and she doesn’t get what she wants anyway. I hate that the world is filled with Tamaras-everybody needs love. Not everyone understands the occult or their own sacrifice in search of power. (I’m not saying all magic is evil, but anything not fully understood is dangerous, ESPECIALLY if you don’t know what you’re doing.) Ultimately, I feel sorry for Tamara and hope there’s comfort for her character in the afterlife.
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