Madelaine Petsch | That Horizon Is Compellingly Curved Just So, Isn’t It?

Via Issue 192, Gettin' Around

Written by

Annie Bush

Photographed by

Thomas Giddings

Styled by

Harper Slate

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SANDRO sweater, skirt, shoes, and belt and TAG HEUER Diamond link watch.

The Final Girl has nothing. It’s the end of the story, and the Final Girl crawls on the ground oh so pitifully, lip trembling just so, eyebrow cocked to the Gods, perfumed by the air of ritual humility, again and again and again. Jamie Lee Curtis limps out of a suburban house. Courteney Cox holds a microphone, trembling. Mia Goth drives a rumbling truck into a sleepy dawn. But what is determined of Madelaine Petsch’s fate in The Strangers: Chapter 1, the first of Renny Harlin’s 2024 trilogic reprisal loosely based on Bryan Bertino’s 2009 original? Petsch stirs in her hospital bed. This isn’t the end of the story, and Petsch is no ordinary Final Girl.

Madelaine Petsch, starlet in the new Strangers trilogy, is intimately acquainted with the characteristics requisite of a character with a franchise-long lifespan. Perhaps most well known for her seven-season stint as Cheryl Blossom on CW’s Riverdale, Petsch stepped out of Blossom’s perfectly manicured shoes after the finale last year, taking with her a cadre of loyal fans who followed with bemusement and adoration, the show’s absurdist plotlines over the course of its six-year run. Throughout Petsch’s—neé Cheryl Blossom’s—early career, she has been haunted by a doll inhabited by the spirit of a triplet she absorbed in the womb; has exhumed the corpse of her twin brother to dress him up like a little doll; and has fornicated with her ex-girlfriend while possessed by an ancestor, among a number of other dada-esque stories. If anyone knows how to come out of a chaos narrative with dignity and humor, it’s Petsch.

SANDRO tank top and talent’s own earrings.

Despite Riverdale’s vast meme-ability (its exhaustive plot lines were often riffed on across the casts’ own social media), the notoriously tight-knit cast looks back on the show fondly. When I speak to Petsch, she affirms the sentiment: “On Riverdale, we were thrown these intensely insane, camp scenarios and were meant to ground them within our character’s world, which really did kind of make us game for anything. I feel very lucky to have been thrown things the day before they had to happen and [found] ways to ground them within my own character stakes and their world and their needs,” she says. More than anything, she notes, Riverdale was “like a boot camp.” Petsch, ever grateful, does admit that post-Riverdale, she’s “staying away from the color red for a little bit.” She laughs: “And I don’t think I’m going to be flying on a broomstick and casting spells on anybody anytime soon.”

PRADA top, skirt, socks, and shoes.

Now, the 29-year-old is fully engrossed in The Strangers franchise, involving herself in sound mixing and other aspects of production as the trilogy unfolds. Based loosely on the characters and scares introduced by the 2008 original, the trilogy is one long story, all filmed and edited at once, chopped up, and set to release over the course of the next year. The first of the installments will be released May 17th, with others in the coming months. Petsch, who has been spending her time sound mixing for The Strangers II came onto the project as the lead. “I’m so lucky,” Petsch tells me. “Renny [Harlin], our director, and our producer, Courtney [Solomon]... have given me so much autonomy in every step of making this film... I get to give [my character] a real arc.”

FENDI dress and gloves and talent’s own earrings.

A great deal of the appeal of the Strangers trilogy, for Petsch, was Maya’s fully-fleshed arc: “You do see my character [Maya] get pushed past her breaking point, and you are left with the question: who does that leave her with? But she’s not stripped of her agency... I think people will be very elated to see a character who, against all odds, continues to prevail. That’s what I’m excited about, for this whole trilogy of films. Maya is not the typical Final Girl. It’s not that [Maya] happens to be there at the end–she does, against all odds, continue to persist and be tenacious,” Petsch says.

MIMCHIK top and skirt.

When she speaks of the “typical Final Girl,” she speaks with authority: as a longtime fan of the genre, she’s consumed “a lot” of horror movies: “I used to live around the corner from a Blockbuster as a kid. By ninth grade, my mission was to watch every horror film in the store.” Her favorites? Climax by Gaspar Noé, and “Pretty much every shark movie ever made. It’s a weird obsession.” As a cinephile, she notices a lot of trends in the industry. One that she’s tired of seeing on screen, specifically for women, is the “total girlboss” trope. The particular issue is nuanced– as the “Final Girl” stereotype often robs women of their agency, so too does the “girlboss.”

SANDRO tank top.

“I am tired of this boss bitch mentality in characters. I find that a lot of the time, I’m getting sent stuff that swings in the exact opposite direction. The script will be like–this girl is a boss bitch, she can take anything! I’m like, no! Female characters can be more than one thing. She can be a boss bitch at work, and still be miserable at home, and still be struggling with her own personality, and trying to figure out her way. Now, I’m trying to find more of a middle ground–like, we can be well rounded creatures that have lots of different feelings. We don’t have to have one, singular, strong through line.”

VALENTINO dress and talent’s own earrings.

Petsch certainly wants to help the industry, specifically the horror industry, strike the delicate balance between the two: “More [women] should be at the helm of the horror genre, [especially when there are female protagonists]. Women are the ones that typically live with that low state of fear their entire lives.”

The Strangers, the plot of which is partly inspired by true American crime, is part of a class of horror that genuinely scares the actor: “I’m only really scared of things that feel like they could actually happen. Paranormal stuff doesn’t really freak me out. Monster films, supernatural stuff—none of that scares me— but when I think that something could happen to me, that’s far more bone-chilling. That fear lasts longer through me, like the original The Strangers, to this day, is one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. They’re not doing needless jump scares. It’s terrifying to know people might kill for no reason.”

PRADA sweater, top, tights, and shoes and talent’s own earrings.

Because of these tangible fears, Petsch is holding off on true crime podcasts for the time being. “It was like an addiction,” she tells me. “I’ve removed myself from that because it actually doesn’t make me feel good. It doesn’t make me feel safe.” She compares the compulsion towards true crime to the same sort of anxieties she gets with flights: “When I’m going on an airplane and I’m boarding the plane, there’s that space between the plane and the jet bridge where I always hold super tightly to my passport or my phone—my therapist says that listening to true crime [comes from the same place].”

That liminal space—between the jet bridge and the plane, between the safety of the home and the impossibility of the unknown intruder, between the knowledge of the past and the annals of the future—is a space that Madelaine Petsch dares to occupy. I ask her, then, as an expert in finality: “Is survival the same as victory?”

“No,” she says. “If you’re left with a husk of yourself, it’s not really a victory. You’ve just survived.”

Petsch is a perennial survivor, but she always ensures that she emerges victorious. 

SANDRO dress, talent’s own earrings, and AWE INSPIRED ring.

Photographed by Thomas Giddings at A Creative Partner

Styled by Harper Slate

Written by Annie Bush

Hair: Ryan Richman at A-Frame Agency

Makeup: Jen Tioseco at The Wall Group

Nails: Sreynin Peng at Opus Beauty using Chanel Le Vernis

Flaunt Film: Isaac Dektor

Digi Tech: Michael Seeley

Production Assistants: Mariam Bagdady and Jabari

Stylist Assistant: Ava Lee Duncan

Location: Hollywood GOAT House

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Flaunt Magazine, Issue 192, Gettin' Around, Madelaine Petsch, Sandro, Fendi, Prada, Mimchik, Tag Heuer, Valentino, Awe Inspired, The Strangers, Annie Bush, Thomas Giddings, Harper Slate