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Cold As Ice: Your Friendly Neighborhood Female Sociopaths

By Clare Maceira | Lists | December 13, 2016 |

By Clare Maceira | Lists | December 13, 2016 |

When we think of female sociopaths, several key characters come to mind. Alex Forrest. Nurse Ratched. Annie Wilkes. Catherine Tramell. Amy Dunne. Cersei Lannister. Female sociopaths are so far and few between in fiction, it has become synonymous with “crazy bitch.” You know the vibe: She “Gone Girl-ed” her husband. Bunny boiler. Single White Female’d. Fiction has made the female sociopath into almost a parody, a crazy woman driven by revenge or jealousy toward a friend or lover.

Yet, when ranking psychopaths in media, you will often find Alex Forrest’s bunny boiler ranked higher than Patrick Bateman’s psycho. Even with exaggerated depictions on film, female sociopaths are scary. There’s something about a woman who is emotionless, ruthless, and sometimes deadly that freaks people the fuck out. While not much separates female sociopaths from their male counterparts, women are often held on a separate level, so much so that their devious acts are considered iconic.

Unfortunately, even with the iconic ice pick or the COCKADOODIE CAR, psychopaths of the female persuasion are frustratingly sparse. So grab a seat while I list some of my favorite modern female sociopaths. There will be spoilers!

Christine Reade - The Girlfriend Experience (2016)

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A Chicago law intern, who lives a double life as an escort, Christine Reade’s lack of empathy or need for emotional connections get her branded the “female Ted Bundy” by a colleague. Often stone-faced and aloof, Christine’s main displays of emotion are happiness and pleasure for a client or simmering with a barely contained anger. Her smiles never really reach her eyes and Riley Keough’s monotone delivery adds an extra chilliness to Christine’s blank slate of a demeanor.

The beauty of Keough’s exceptional, criminally ignored performance is you are never quite sure when Christine is being genuine, or if she feels anything at all. As the season progresses, the dead-eyed stare becomes more permanent and by the half-hour teeth-clencher that is episode nine’s “Blindsided,” Christine’s panic attack and the subsequent blank stare she delivers to the colleague who wronged her, you realize you aren’t quite sure what just happened. Hell, you aren’t quite sure who Christine is, and you never really knew. Maybe, just maybe, she isn’t the woman you’d want to be alone in a room with, but hey, at least she hasn’t killed anyone … yet.

Alice Morgan - Luther (2010)

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The most traditional sociopath on the list, Alice murders anyone in her way, including her parents. Played with a cheerful and icy duality by Ruth Wilson in a star-making turn, Alice’s emotions vary from a childlike giddiness to outright rage. Alice’s near-obsession with Luther (Idris Elba) is both alluring and uncomfortable; she is convinced they are two of a kind, and will take out anyone who threatens him.

In series three, Alice regards Luther’s love interest’s fear with fascination, watching as she panics in the face of danger. She knows of emotions and how to mimic them, but doesn’t understand them, seeming perplexed and agitated by the other woman. Ruth Wilson is scary good, and even watching her on The Affair prompts suspicion and looking for her weapon because, dammit, Alice could have escaped London, headed to Montauk and is busy plotting Joshua Jackson’s death, we have to save him!

Marquise de Merteuil/Kathryn Merteuil - Dangerous Liaisons (1988)/Cruel Intentions (1999)

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Bored, angry, and manipulative, both Merteuil incarnations border on sociopathic tendencies rather than being an outright sociopath. She plays with people for sport and is cruel with her revenge. She notes she’s “a virtuoso of deceit” in Dangerous Liaisons and can switch from warm and charming to vicious and icy in the blink of an eye. Any show of compassion or interest is an attempt at gathering information and weaknesses to use against her victim later.

By the end of both films, Merteuil briefly cries after being exposed as a heartless fraud, but even then, she only cries for herself and not the people she’s hurt and played. Although defeated, you know Merteuil isn’t out, and probably plotted her revenge long after the credits rolled. While Sarah Michelle Gellar’s portrayal was delightfully campy, Glenn Close’s turn is chillingly poised and cold. Fatal Attraction contains the more traditional psychopath, but Close’s performance in Dangerous Liaisons is perhaps more terrifying. She may not boil a bunny, but she could destroy you from the inside out.

Suzanne Stone - To Die For (1996)

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A narcissist of the highest order, the meteorologist played by Nicole Kidman will do anything to become famous, including planning the execution of her husband (the film was based in part on the real life Pamela Smart case). She has delusions of grandeur, comparing herself to Barbara Walters, and looks down on her in-laws. The “ice maiden” is a master manipulator, and you can see the wheels clearly turning as she plots her next moves while happily basking in the spotlight of her own creation.

Often when Suzanne speaks to other people, she talks in a manner that seems incredibly scripted, and she often seems bored when the attention is not on her. While not among the extreme sociopaths in pop culture, Suzanne’s enthusiastic ruthlessness makes her terrifying; she’s the sociopath next door. Kidman won a Golden Globe for the role and the real life Suzanne, Pamela Smart, called Kidman’s performance “embarrassing and one-dimensional,” so you know it’s on the money. Kidman also played a more out and out psychopath in 1993’s Malice.

Who are your favorite female sociopaths in film and television? Will 2017 be the rise of the friendly female neighborhood sociopath? (yes, yes it should be)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.