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When Motherhood Is a Horror Show


In “Umma,” a beekeeping single mom (Sandra Oh) is possessed by the ghost of her own mother. In “Lamb,” an Icelandic farmer (Noomi Rapace) adopts a hybrid lamb-human newborn she discovers in her barn, with monstrous results. Marvel’s flirtation with horror, within the director Sam Raimi’s zombified “Doctor Strange” sequel, finds its villain in a mother, a lurching Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who’s willing to wreak havoc across as many universes as it’ll take to reunite together with her children.

On this mind-expanding, idiosyncratic tackle the superhero film, a laundromat owner is the main target of a grand, multiversal showdown.

Even “The Twin,” an original film from the horror streaming service Shudder, cycles through a multitude of clichés (evil twin, Scandinavian occultism, Faustian bargain) before landing on mommy psychodrama. Though these moms often carry past domestic traumas — abuse, neglect, infant loss — their stories signal that there’s something psychologically harrowing in regards to the role of motherhood itself.

In pregnancy, birth and young life, the horror tropes abound. Growing one other human being inside your body is a natural human process that may nevertheless feel eerie, alien and supernatural. Also, gory. When the photographer Heji Shin began taking unsentimental photographs of babies at birth, “I checked out them and I used to be like, That is literally ‘The Exorcist,’” she told T Magazine. Bringing life into the world also brings death viscerally close. 1000’s of infants die unexpectedly in the primary yr of their lives. Giving birth in the USA is greater than 20 times as lethal as skydiving. Even probably the most desired and successful of pregnancies (let alone the sort that anti-abortion laws would require be carried to term) can conjure themes of shape-shifting, disfigurement, possession and torture.

The pandemic surfaced horrors of a more quotidian nature: the drudgeries of ceaseless child rearing. The veneration of motherly fortitude and sacrifice endemic to nature documentaries and Mother’s Day Instagram tributes has all the time disguised an American disinterest in functionally supporting moms and other caretakers. But recently the image of the overworked American mother has assumed a darker valence, as latest levels of isolation and stress have unleashed a maternal desperation that’s been described as “primal,” “Sisyphean,” and, as the author Amil Niazi put it in The Cut last yr, “like my brain is burning and so is my entire house and someone just stole the hearth extinguisher.”

Often a mother’s own fixation on such darker themes is written off, trivialized as old news or pathologized as postpartum depression. So it is sensible for all of it to get sublimated into horror. The truth is, it makes a lot sense that the final result is usually just a little too on the nose. Psychological frights that jumped from the screen in earlier mother-focused movies, like “The Babadook” (from 2014) and “Hereditary” (2018), now appear to drift wearily through popular culture, as stories of motherhood are retold time and again through the blunt instruments of horror.

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