“Dark.” “Precocious.” “Quirky.” “Outspoken.”
Chances are these are the kinds of things you heard or thought about Christina Ricci in the ’90s. The actress, now 42, starred in a string of movies during that decade that cemented her image as the opposite of the stereotypical smiley film ingenue, and her off-screen persona — in which she tended toward edgy remarks — added to the rep.
Like so many icons of ’90s culture, Ricci has made a major comeback in recent years. Her latest role is in the thriller “Monstrous,” out Friday, May 13. In it, she plays a young mother fleeing dark circumstances in a deceptively quaint 1950s setting.
Her character, Laura, seems to be trying to escape an abusive husband; she and her young son arrive at a house in a dusty desert landscape, where the son (Santino Barnard) begins seeing an otherworldly apparition in the lake near the house, and Laura keeps hanging up on insistent phone calls.
The twisty supernatural drama follows Ricci’s turn as the menacing Misty Quigley in Showtime’s series “Yellowjackets,” which reunited Ricci with fellow ’90s actors Juliette Lewis and Melanie Lynskey as adult survivors of a plane crash whose fallout was a quasi- “Lord of the Flies,” except with teen girls. The show was roundly praised for its unique blend of horror, nostalgia and insight into female friendships — with a riot grrrl-tinged upending of tropes about men in survival situations. And Ricci, as the show’s most intriguing and possibly villainous character, stole the show — even in a starry ensemble.
She’s also set to appear in Tim Burton’s Addams Family Netflix show, “Wednesday,” this time in an as-yet-unnamed part, while actress Jenna Ortega will take over the title role Ricci played in the early ’90s.
It’s a triumphant return for the actress in an era that’s embracing the complexity and darkness of female roles in a way most mainstream movies and shows did not in her youth.
“There was definitely a period of time when I didn’t fit into anything that was being made. I was constantly being asked or having to go and audition for rom-coms and the things that were available for actresses in my age range, and I didn’t fit into any of them because, I don’t know, I’m just a different kind of actress,” she told the LA Times.
Back in the day, the young Ricci was prized for her adorable look and beyond-her-years wry wit. After her first film role alongside Cher and Winona Ryder in 1990’s “Mermaids,” she broke out as Wednesday Addams in 1991’s “The Addams Family,” and its 1993 sequel “Addams Family Values.” Ricci so embodied the pitch-black humor of the Addams daughter that her off-screen image seemed inextricably linked to her performance in the part.
She aged up into noir roles in some notable ’90s indies, particularly 1998’s withering comedy “The Opposite of Sex,” with Lisa Kudrow, and Vincent Gallo’s controversial “Buffalo 66,” and then 2001’s “Prozac Nation” and 2003’s “Monster,” in which she played the girlfriend to Charlize Theron’s serial killer.
She also made a name for herself by saying outrageous things in interviews, and reportedly dealt with an eating disorder. She has said it all sprang from feeling like a bug under a magnifying glass. “At that age, I had no idea who I was, so for people to be deciding who I was was very strange,” she told the Guardian. “I felt very criticized and analyzed. The only thing I can think of was like somebody just twisting in the wind. Being a teenager and being that public, then having to answer questions about other people’s opinions of you, was incredibly uncomfortable.”
These days, though, she’s more sanguine about being in the public eye — and the film landscape for female performers seems to have caught up with the kind of no-BS vibe she was serving up decades ago.
Ricci has said the role of the dowdy but diabolical Misty, in particular, has felt resonant for her — as well as a deliciously dark revelation. “I am a small woman who apparently is adorable to people who like to touch me and not take me seriously and like to assume I’m stupid before I open my mouth. And I’m an actress who didn’t go to college, so I must be really dumb. But I can’t be directly hostile or directly confrontational . . . So I very much related to that, and I love the idea of getting to show that because I don’t feel like I’ve ever played anything where I got to show that manifestation of rage.”
As for how her character arc plays out in “Monstrous” . . . well, we won’t spoiler it for you. But suffice it to say it’s yet another satisfying gut-punch in the glorious second coming of Ricci, who’s now got two children of her own. All hail the goth queen mother.