One of the most popular horror movie tropes is the Bad, Scary Mother. It’s not just horror movies that love to trot out a fearsome mother figure. Norma Bates wasn’t the first controlling, abusive mother to terrify her children, and she won’t be the last. Medea, Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Cersai Lannister—human culture and literature has countless examples of maternal figures that are selfish, manipulative, and downright evil. These figures are powerful because they fly in the face of our ideal image of what a mother should be.
And what should a mother be? This Mother’s Day, like all others, we will celebrate our mothers for their nurturing natures, for how loving and supportive and selfless and kind they’ve been to us. We will post cute vintage pictures of our mothers, young and bright-eyed, holding colorful little bundles of joy on their laps. We will send them flowers, buy them lovely gifts, bring them chocolates, and wait on them hand and foot. They have given so much to us, we will say. They’ve sacrificed so much for us. They’ve been good mothers.
Does a bad mother fail to do all of that? Is that how easy it is to tell who is a good mommy and who is a bad mommy?
Everybody loves a good monster movie. It’s thrilling to watch an abominable creature stalk and hunt unsuspecting people. It’s exciting to watch the unsuspecting people run and hide and eventually figure out a way to defeat the monster. And sometimes it’s even more fun when the monster isn’t defeated (at least you know you’ll get a sequel).
I’ve talked a little bit about how, in addition to entertaining us, horror mirrors our fears through various horror tropes and stock characters. It’s my hypothesis that certain horror villains and boogeymen represent specific human fears. While vampires, werewolves, and zombies could also be considered monsters, the important distinction those creatures used to be human and often retain a bit of their humanity. Monsters like the xenomorph in Alien or the shark from Jaws are beasts; they are scary because of their inhuman nature. We humans may think we’re the masters of our domain and that the natural world is ours for the taking, but it’s all an illusion. We know that deep down. Monsters represent a world that has broken free of human control.
No matter how much I try, I’m not perfect. I don’t work out enough. I could be better with money. I could definitely be tidier, but I’m lazy. I admit it. I like to drink a bottle of wine and watch Netflix if I don’t have anywhere to be the next day. I like to think that someday, if I have kids, I’ll suddenly become perfect and selfless and hardworking.
But do I have to be like that? I’ll certainly step up to plate if I ever have a child, but I won’t be perfect. Should I? Should a good mother encompass all those values?
Such is the focus of The Babadook, one of the best and scariest films I’ve seen all year. Seriously, The Babadook is extremely well acted and written, with inventive camera techniques and an incredible attention paid to detail.