When motherhood is a horror show

In “Umma”, a single mother beekeeper (Sandra Oh) is possessed by the ghost of her own mother. In “ Lamb an Icelandic farmer (Noomi Rapac...


In “Umma”, a single mother beekeeper (Sandra Oh) is possessed by the ghost of her own mother. In “Lamban Icelandic farmer (Noomi Rapace) adopts a newborn lamb-human hybrid she discovers in her barn, with monstrous results. Marvel’s flirtation with horror, in the zombified sequel to director Sam Raimi’s ‘Doctor Strange’, finds its villain in a mother, a flickering Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who is ready to wreak havoc in so many universe it will take to find his children.

Same “The twin,” an original film from horror streaming service Shudder, weaves through a mess of cliches (evil twin, Scandinavian occultism, Faustian bargain) before landing on mom psychodrama. Although these mothers often carry past domestic trauma – abuse, neglect, child loss – their stories indicate that there is something psychologically heartbreaking about the role of motherhood itself.

In pregnancy, birth, and young life, horror tropes abound. Growing another human being inside your body is a natural human process that can nonetheless feel strange, alien, and supernatural. Gore too. When photographer Heji Shin started taking unsentimental pictures of babies at birth, “I looked at them and was like, It’s literally “The Exorcist,” she told T Magazine. Bringing life into the world also viscerally brings death closer. Thousands of infants die unexpectedly in the first year of their life. Giving birth in the United States is more than 20 times as deadly as skydiving. Even the most desired and successful pregnancies (not to mention those that anti-abortion laws would require to be carried to term) can evoke themes of shapeshifting, disfigurement, possession, and torture.

The pandemic has surfaced horrors of a more everyday nature: the drudgery of relentless child-rearing. The reverence for maternal strength and sacrifice endemic to nature documentaries and Mother’s Day Instagram tributes has always disguised an American disinterest in the functional support of mothers and other caregivers. But recently, the image of the overworked American mother has taken on a darker valence, as new levels of isolation and stress have triggered a maternal desperation that has been described as “primitive,” “Sisyphus», and, like the writer Amil Niazi Put the in The Cut last year, “like my brain was on fire and my whole house was on fire and someone just stole the fire extinguisher.”

Often a mother’s own fixation on such dark themes is ignored, trivialized as old news or pathologized as postpartum depression. So it makes sense that all of this is sublimated into horror. In fact, it’s so logical that the result is often a bit too much on the nose. Psychological scares that jumped off the screen in earlier mother-focused filmsto like “The Babadook» (from 2014) and «Hereditary(2018), now seem to drift wearily through pop culture, as stories of motherhood are told again and again through the blunt instruments of horror.

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