Tag Archives: pregnancy
About a week ago, Andreas posted his top 10 horror films of the past decade for The Montana Mancave Massacre and now it’s my turn up to bat. We spent quite a while discussing what we thought were the best horror films of the past ten years and then to narrow that list down even more while trying to avoid a lot of overlap between our lists. It wasn’t too hard: we’re both die-hard horror fans and love a lot of the same films but still have very specific tastes and things that appeal to us especially. So, without further babbling, here’s my list of the top 10 films from the past decade!
10. Grace (Paul Solet, 2009)
As I’ve shown time and time again, I am a sucker for pregnancy/infant/child related horror. Due to my own internalized fears about pregnancy and children, even the worst of this type of film could still chill me. Grace was an unexpected gem for me. After Madeline’s obsessive attempts to have a baby in a completely controlled environment fail, she gives birth to an undead baby who lives on Madeline’s blood. I thought it did well with the typical “evil baby, scary pregnancy” cliches. It could have gone in the direction of the It’s Alive remake and made the baby like a wild animal eating people’s throats out, but Grace offered up a much more subtle horror. We watch as this young, widowed mother literally lets herself be drained, physically and mentally, for the sake of her child.
9. The Others (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001)
I was about 12 the first time I saw this movie and it seriously scared me; I slept with my light on for a few days afterward. As an adult, the film still chills me. Nicole Kidman gives a powerful, sometimes icy performance (which is kind of her thing but it really works here) as the long-suffering mother of two photosensitive children. I love The Others because it really is an old-fashioned haunted house story: large, dark shadowy manor, foggy woods, ghosts hiding behind curtains. Something else I love about it is how emotional the story and the characters are. I sometimes feel that horror films tend to shy away from tapping into the emotional potentials of the genre, as if being sad and being afraid are two mutually exclusive emotions. The twist ending may not pack that much of a surprising punch but what the climax lacks in creativity it makes up for in raw emotion.
8. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
Shaun of the Dead is one of the best zombie parodies ever. It manages to quite flawlessly mesh comedy, horror and romance. Shaun is so perfectly balanced: it never gets so cheeky in its self-awareness like some movies (cough *Zombieland* cough) that it renders the horror aspects of the film ineffective, and the romance doesn’t overwhelm the plot or feel shoehorned in. In any other slacker comedy, our loveable but lazy and ambitionless protagonist would learn to be more responsible and hardworking through a series of wacky events; in Shaun, he learns it through a series of wacky and terrifying events that involve beating zombies with a cricket bat, pretending to be the undead, and defending their very penetrable fortress of a pub.
7. Ils (David Moreau & Xavier Palud, 2006)
I love French horror and I love home invasion movies. Pretty simple. I live in mortal fear of someone not just breaking into my home, but fucking with me while they do it. Coming in and messing with a person’s home is such a violation; our homes are where we go to be safe and the idea of people entering it and making it dangerous is terrifying. This movie is often compared to The Strangers, which came out 2 years later, and in my opinion Ils is the superior film. Mostly because Ils is not fueled by an Idiot Plot; our two main characters don’t leave each other alone or get caught by the people invading their home because they make foolish mistakes. The only reason they (spoiler) get caught by their assailants is because they’re simply outnumbered. It’s so simple and so chilling.
6. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)
I want more movies like this movie. I am the audience for this movie. Slow and atmospheric, it builds quietly, bides its time, gives the audience little jolts of fear but for most of the film deprives us of any release in adrenaline. It just builds and builds and builds, winding the viewer up tight with expectation. It’s a pitch-perfect throwback to the horror of the late ’70s and ’80s; it emulates all we love about that era’s horror flicks while managing to be a superior film than most of them. It takes some of the best horror cliches—Satanists, babysitter, scary house in the middle of nowhere, satanic pregnancy—and turns them into something new. It’s a weird, satisfying blend of familiarity and modernity. And I still maintain that “Are you not the babysitter?” is one of the most chilling lines in recent horror cinema.
5. The Descent (Neil Marshall, 2005)
The Descent scared the ever-loving shit out of me even before we got to the scary, wall-climbing cave people: tight caves and crumbling rocks, claustrophobic sets, total darkness and total vulnerability and helplessness on the part of our characters. Scary shit, for sure. And then they get attacked by the creepy cave creatures. One of the things that sets it apart from other horror films is that not only is the cast entirely female, but most of them actually act like they like each other. You get the sense that these women are actually friends, not backbiting teenagers whose only defining characteristics are either “have boobs and die sexy” or “have boobs and be final girl” like we’re usually served up in typical horror. Even with Sarah and Juno, between whom there is a very palpable rift, you can sense that they’re at least trying to work things out. I have kind of a thing for bleak endings (some of my favorite movies include The Stepford Wives and Martyrs), so this movie, from start to finish, is right up my alley.
4. Oldboy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003)
Some people don’t consider this a horror movie and I’ll admit that it’s definitely got a revenge plot going on rather than a straight-up horror narrative. But I feel like often times revenge films (and especially South Korean revenge films) have lots of horror aspects. And in any case, this movie scared me pretty intensely. The very premise is scary enough; kidnapped and trapped for 15 years, no idea why, your captors never talk to you or tell you anything. And then you’re let go, again no explanation. Beyond that, all-consuming revenge is a concept that deeply frightens me: all you exist for, all you want, your entire identity is wrapped up in revenge. And then, in the case of our protagonist Dae-su, to reach the end of your endeavors only to find it was all for naught, that this was the plan all along and, worst of all, that you’ve been fucking your daughter. I’d cut my tongue off too. And that ending. Does Mi-do have any idea who Dae-su is? Has Dae-su really forgotten the truth about who this woman is? Or is he so desperate for love and comfort that he’s willing to pretend he doesn’t know, just to keep the love of his lover-daughter? Creepy, disturbing, intensely unsettling stuff.
3. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
This is the only overlap between my and Andreas’s lists and it really can’t be avoided. Let The Right One In is undeniably one of the best, most powerful, beautiful films of this past decade, horror or otherwise. Since Andreas already discussed this film in his list I’ll keep this brief. Oskar and Eli are one of recent horror’s most deeply sweet and troubled couples. The quiet of this film is what gets me; it’s not full of screams and a pounding soundtrack. It’s so quiet that you can literally hear the snow falling in the opening scene. It’s such a full and complete quiet that when something terrifying does happen and someone gets their throat eaten or someone screams it’s like shattering glass. I could literally go on about this movie for days, so suffice it to say that I love Let the Right One In.
2. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier, 2008)
Something else I love is the New French Extremity. I can’t explain why I love Martyrs so much. I saw it and didn’t sleep for about two days. Not because I was afraid but because the movie had affected me so deeply that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What was this movie trying to say? What was it saying about women and violence and religion and mental illness? Why am I so drawn to a film that doesn’t have a single ounce of joy or hope? Because Martyrs is not an enjoyable film; it’s an endurance test from start to finish. I guess one of the reasons why I love it, why I’m drawn to it, why I consider it one of my all time favorite horror movies is because, other than being a deeply terrifying film, every time I watch it I spend days thinking. I like movies that make me think and this one does that in spades. Ultra-violence and incredibly unsatisfying ending aside, it’s an intensely intellectual film in that it encourages (and sometimes forces) people to think about what is happening.
1. Inside (Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo, 2007)
Long time readers of this blog should already know that I am a big fan of this movie. I’ve written at length about it a few times. I’ve mentioned my deeply internalized fears of pregnancy and children and how that manifests itself as a deep fear and love of all horror movies involving pregnancy/infants/children. Inside is everything I love about pregnancy horror: I love the way these horror films take the clichés about pregnant women and twist them through the codes of the genre, turning maternity into a horrifying perversion of itself. We all know the stereotypes about Mama Bears and snooty moms who bicker with each other and all that jazz. But once horror gets its hands on these ideas, bickering turns to terrifying stalking and bloody show downs and pregnancy turns into an all-out, no-holds-barred war. And frail little Sara’s hugely swollen, vulnerable body is the battleground.
In Lynchland, though, it’s a different story altogether. That’s because this week’s entry in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series is David Lynch’s bombshell of a first feature, Eraserhead (1977). If you only know one thing about Eraserhead and its imagery, it should be this: they’re gross and disturbing. In Lynch’s distorted vision of human relationships, sexual anxieties get literalized with all the oozing pus and foam you could ask for. It’s the kind of movie that makes me go, “Ew! Ew! No! Put down those scissors!” for like a solid minute. Compared to all those grotesque mutations, my choice for best shot is relatively innocuous:
At this point in the film, protagonist Henry Spencer’s wife Mary is all fed up with their mutant baby’s constant yammering, so she’s moved back in with her parents. With her away, Henry takes a chance on the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, and they start getting intimate… when the Beautiful Girl spots that icky, whining baby. On the most basic level, then, this shot is about how much of a turn-off babies (especially mutant babies) are. The second Henry’s paramour gets an eyeful of his weird-looking offspring, she goes back across the hall, and he remains sexually frustrated for the rest of the film.
It’s also very visually striking. Like the rest of Eraserhead, it’s shot with extremely low lighting and low contrast, so it’s hard to tell where Henry’s face ends and the Beautiful Girl’s face begins. It’s like we’re gazing down at a fleshy nocturnal landscape. (It also reminds me of René Magritte’s painting The Kiss.) These two distinctly unhappy people look for some pleasure by frantically groping and kissing one another—but in Eraserhead‘s sick world, it’s never that easy. It’s all too appropriate, in a film that represents sex as a disgusting ordeal of writhing and fluids, for this little tryst to end with the Beautiful Girl’s eyes bulging out in terror.
In Eraserhead, everything’s ever so slightly off-kilter, psychologically and visually. No one talks like real people, and nothing looks quite like its real-world analogue. This makes the tiny resemblances to real life that much scarier. In Henry and Mary’s dysfunctional relationship, in their screaming baby, in the depressing emptiness of their apartment, and in the utter gloominess of their environment, we can see little echoes of very real horrors and everyday problems.
In the image above (my second-favorite shot), the perpetually put-upon Henry raises his eyebrow; his misery is tinged, for once, with curiosity. In the background, Mary clings to a door while her father, the impotent patriarch, perches at the head of the table. (His face is obscured by Henry’s strange, massive hair.) This is Lynch’s perverse take on the nuclear family and their domestic milieu. This shot’s just barely canted, with the composition and the many shades of gray geared to indicate that something’s, well, off. Get out, Henry. Get out while you still can.
I’ll end with an illustration of Eraserhead‘s overwhelming ickiness, as Henry is enveloped by a metaphor for his own sexual anxieties. I have one word for this: YUCK.
So, here we have the final story in Wandering Uterus, which is a condensed chronicle of the summer after Andreas left and my incredibly neurotic pregnancy scare. I would like to expand this story; my fears of pregnancy and issues with reproduction rights could make up their own graphic novel if I let them. I hope that you’ve all enjoyed my first major foray into comics-making. I hope to work more on this over the summer!
Hit the jump to read all about my neurosis….
As I’ve made apparent, I have a fondness for pregnancy/infant/child horror. It’s a kind of horror that is very palpable to me, probably due to my own deeply internalized fears of pregnancy, child birth, and children overall. It’s Alive (1974) is one of the best examples of pregnancy and family anxieties manifesting themselves in a monster child. The film opens up with a happy couple on their way to the hospital; Lenore Davis is pregnant with her second child. They send their son, Chris, to a friend’s to wait the night and head to the hospital for what is supposed to be a beautiful, happy occurrence. The situation quickly devolves into terror when, upon birth, their infant slaughters the entire room of doctors and nurses before disappearing, causing a city-wide panic. What follows is as much a well-written family drama as it is a horror story.
The movie does an excellent job of presenting motherhood, and even femaleness itself, as a state of Otherness. From the very beginning after the child disappears from the hospital, the doctors and Frank Davis do a great job of continually oppressing Lenore. Frank makes decisions about the mutant infant’s fate with the doctors without consulting Lenore first; the doctors give her placating drugs and suggest that she not even be downstairs in her own home due to the stress. Their clinically disconnected treatment of Lenore reminds me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, wherein a woman’s neurosis and depression is deemed a feminine psychosomatic condition and she is ‘fixed’ with fresh air, pills and a refusal to let her work, despite what she wants for herself; she eventually goes bat shit insane. A similar fate awaits Lenore Davis.
The men around her- doctors, officers, and even (or most especially) her husband-do not experience the emotional investment that Lenore does in giving birth to an abnormal child who then immediately goes missing and therefore do not take it into account. They do not consider the psychological implications of carrying a pregnancy to term only to have it end with something arguably worse than the worst case scenarios of miscarriage or still-birth. Her increasingly deluded behavior is set on the back-burner in light of the threat facing the innocent citizens and her husband doesn’t have the patience or emotional capacity to deal with his family. He keeps his son, Chris, at a constant distance, refusing to bring him home or tell him what’s actually going on (which leads to deadly disaster later) and he refuses to listen to Lenore, whether she’s ruminating on how their infant came to be or falling quietly into madness.
Frank spends most of the movie struggling with the idea that the blood flowing through the killer infant’s veins links him irrevocably to Frank and his family. He lashes out at the police officers, unprovoked, demanding to know why they look at him as if it’s his child, before desperately denying any feelings for it; after shooting at the baby, he tells Chris ‘it’s of no relation to us’. He further denounces any relation to the baby by implying to Lenore that Chris is ‘my son’ and asking her ‘see what your baby did…’ after the child kills a family friend. This attitude reflects societal ideas about family ties; your family and how they act and what they are reflects on you as a person. Many people want to sever some family ties or disown certain members of their families for not living or acting or being a way that they find acceptable (of course, in the case of rampant murdering, the desire to obliterate ties makes sense). In Frank’s case, making Lenore responsible for the feral infant helps alleviate some of his guilt and stress. Frank, as the patriarch, can claim the normal child as his own, whereas Lenore is the bearer of a rotten fruit.
Despite the clear danger the Davis baby presents, Lenore, in her mentally unstable state, attempts to mother the infant; as was the case with Rosemary, blood is thicker than fear and maternal instincts override very real, dangerous realities. It’s Alive presents us with a foreign femininity that is misunderstood and ignored by male professionals; an image of hysterical motherhood that is both stereotype and reality. What mother wouldn’t defend her baby, her child, her flesh? Besides, he’s not ugly….
“I always think that things that are small are more frightening than things that are large.” – Larry Cohen
Babies are supposed to be defenseless. They’re not supposed to attack. But in the world of Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive, modernity is toxic. So when the Davis family’s second child (the titular “it”) emerges from its mother’s womb, it can already defend itself, and leaves the delivery room a bloody mess. At its core, though, this isn’t a movie about nurses and joggers being cut down by the infant’s fangs. It’s about one family’s disintegration, and society’s complete failure to put them back together again. It’s about a house whose offspring has been corrupted by forces both inside and outside.
But yes, the starting point for that disintegration is a feral baby on a killing spree. The Davis baby’s unusual physiology gives new meaning to the words “family emergency,” and its parents are totally unable to cope. Frank is a white-collar PR man with a bad temper, and he can’t keep up with the onslaught of pressure from every angle: the unscrupulous media; his smarmy, two-faced boss (“He won’t be coming back”); academics anxious to dissect the monstrosity; and the police, who lack his personal interest in the crisis. Everyone’s eager to personally profit from Frank’s situation, forcing him to isolate himself from all of them, his wife included. “Should’ve known better than to trust anybody,” he mutters after a nurse turns out to be a journalist in disguise. With the Davis family marked as different, the scavengers descend.
Lenore doesn’t fare any better. While Frank runs around, fending off attacks on himself and his family, she’s cooped up in her room as a consequence of medical advice. From her initial protests at the hospital to her screams as she’s being carted away – “What does my baby look like?” – she’s systematically ignored and excluded from the entire medical process. The doctors, supposed experts on matters of the human body, use any excuse to discount her opinion, and what choice does she have? First she’s a hysterical mother giving birth, then she’s drugged, then she’s post-partum, then she’s the mother of a mutant child. Her own experience of her own body is discredited because it’s colored by maternal emotion.
Her only outlet is to go crazy, which she does with aplomb. One moment she’s theorizing out loud that untested pharmaceuticals (foisted on her by the medical establishment) could’ve caused the birth defects; the next, she’s laughing like mad at Looney Tunes. Later, she frantically cleans house as if trying to make her family normal again. It’s Alive is about the horror of a family attempting to survive 20th century industrial society. The baby’s existence tears it parents apart along gendered lines, leading the father out into the public domain (gun in hand) while the mother manages what’s left of the home. The mother reacts by shielding her child; the father flatly denies his parentage… until overcome by the infant’s sobs.
The baby, after all, wants nothing more than to be with its family. It visits its brother Chris’s school, then journeys to the Davis homestead, where it symbolically drains several jars of (its mother’s) milk. It mutilates the family cat, but Chris accepts it as kin. “Don’t worry… don’t be scared,” he reassures the baby. “I’ll protect you.” It’s Alive interrogates the very concept of a “normal family,” especially in such an abnormal, unreliable society. Ultimately, for each member of the family, the most “normal” value is the protection of the newborn son. As Carol J. Clover says in Men, Women, and Chain Saws, Frank is “maternalized” (86), but it’s not just that he accepts a shift in gender role. He also comes to prioritize the unity of his family above external forces of law and order. This decision arrives too late, however, and the film’s bleak conclusion renders its hard-earned exchange of values totally moot.
While last month’s entry in the Final Girl Film Club, City of the Living Dead, worked mostly because it had oodles and oodles of gore, It’s Alive carefully rations out its graphic violence. The baby is only shown in shadows and quick close-ups, easily disappearing into the corners of the school or Chris’s room – environments where a child is more welcome than the police. The film methodically builds up its oppressive atmosphere so that even the act of opening of a fridge is imbued with terror. In another movie, our attention might’ve been fixed on the baby’s bloodied victims, like the milkman or the family friend Charlie. Here, they’re collateral damage to the central tragedy, practically relegated to afterthoughts. The motif of flashing lights, which fill the screen at the beginning and the sewers at the end, configures the outside world as hostile and intrusive, a massive entity that persecutes the Davis family (including its second child).
In its mood and style, It’s Alive barely resembles a “typical” horror movie; it feels more like a tense family drama. It could even be a cousin to John Cassavetes’s A Woman Under the Influence, another 1974 film about motherhood under assault. Other scenes look more like a Dirty Harry-style cop thriller. One of the keys to It’s Alive’s greatness is its refusal to be pinned down by genre or formula. It even works some dark comedy into its warped approach to childrearing. (For example, the camera lingers momentarily on a glittery sign on the back of a school bus which reads “STOP CHILDREN.”) In this aspect, it’s somewhat like Splice, another parenthood parable I recently reviewed. However, while that movie buried itself in its mad scientist clichés and its yen to go over the top, It’s Alive’s versatile director Larry Cohen keeps the action solidly rooted in the traumas of the Davis family.
Also like Splice, It’s Alive turns to Frankenstein as a metaphor for its conflict. (And as a source for its title, which is no longer Dr. Frankenstein’s “eureka,” but instead a pulpy announcement of impending horror.) During a conversation with a pair of university doctors, Frank ruminates on seeing the Karloff film version as a child, then reading the Shelley novel in high school. “I realized that Frankenstein was the doctor who created him. Somehow the identities get all mixed up, don’t they?” By the end of the film, Frank realizes that maybe being a father isn’t so far removed from being a mad scientist after all. The film’s beautifully menacing final line – “Another one’s been born in Seattle” – furthers indicts all American families as potentially hazardous laboratories. So who knows? Maybe right now there’s a couple at work in a bedroom, accidentally breeding a monster.
Yesterday, I received the third issue of Ax Wound Zine, a homegrown feminist horror zine, in the mail. One of the articles, Mother Blood: A Look Inside by M. Brianna Stallings, discussed some of the themes of a 2007 French horror film, À l’intérieu or Inside. The article piqued my interest so much that I found and watched the film. (Warning: spoilers ahead). The film’s plot concerns itself with Sarah, a young pregnant woman who’s husband is killed in a car crash in the first scene of the film. She and her unborn child survive but Sarah is left despondent and isolates herself from everyone, her mother, her employer and even her cat. On the night before her induced birth (Christmas Eve), she is assaulted by a menacing woman. What at first seems like a frightening but ultimately harmless altercation explodes into a brutal, bloody and violent night of unrelenting horror. I was absolutely enthralled by the film; I found it terrifying and evocative on multiple levels and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since I watched it. After watching it, as I read the IMDb page for the film, I made the mistake of reading some of the comment threads about the movie. Several people talked about how stupid and pointless the movie was and how it, “like most all horror movies”, was merely a vehicle for gore and violence. And some of the defense for the film wasn’t much better; it consisted mostly of ‘horror isn’t supposed to have a point! That’s why it’s enjoyable!”.
Now let me take this chance to discuss my own views on horror as a genre. I love horror. Absolutely love it. I would even go so far as to say it’s my favorite genre of film. It’s very difficult to discuss the hows and whys of what horror is and can be and what it does as a genre, just like with any other genre of film; any branch of film is going to be so multi-faceted and rich with subgenres that it takes awhile to wade through it all. But one of my favorite aspects of the horror genre is the way it explores themes of sex, gender, societal views on men and women and sexuality, etc. And in regards to these specific comments about the film being pointless: I’ve been reading Carol Clover’s Men Women and Chainsaws and if there’s one thing (among many) I’ve taken away from it so far is that even the most low-brow, unconscious of films can be analyzed. Because we as a people do not create art in a vacuum; our art is always in some way influenced by the environment and society that we live in. Whether or not a piece of art chooses to recognize that and make some kind of comment on it is really here nor there; the influences inherent to any given society are still recognizable within a piece of work. And, furthermore, just because one person doesn’t recognize something in or read into a piece of art the same way another person does, doesn’t mean that those factors don’t exist within the film. For example: just because hundreds of people don’t think or recognize that privilege and white guilt plays a huge part in the narrative of Avatar doesn’t mean that those ideas are still not inherent to the narrative and easily recognizable to other people.
Getting back on track: Inside is about as far from a pointless film as you can get. Pregnancy and the fears and anxieties surrounding it have been fodder for horror and SciFi for a very long time. The very idea of an entity that is itself a separate being existing within another body or host is an unsettling premise and one that hasn’t escaped the horror genre. Inside plays with these ideas of anxiety before the attacker even shows up via a very graphic dream sequence in which Sarah projectile vomits a milky looking substance (breast milk perhaps?) all over the floor before the fetus expels itself upwards and out of her mouth. This idea of the body rejecting all things to do with the pregnancy-the milk that nurtures baby, the baby itself-is a reflection of very real anxieties experienced by pregnant women: what if something happens to the baby? What if my body doesn’t take care of it right? What if something goes wrong? What if my body can’t house this life properly?
Beyond just themes of the horrors of pregnancy, Inside also explores relationships between women in three ways: the interactions between Sarah and her mother, Sarah and the attacker and Sarah and a female police officer. Sarah’s depression over the death of her husband has caused her to push away her mother, whom she refers to by name and is increasingly frustrated and curt with. Sarah refuses the offer of Christmas dinner with her mother, insisting more than once that she’s “…full. [She’s] really full.” The choice of words very clearly has multiple meanings other than her not being hungry: Sarah is literally and figuratively full. Physically, she is very heavy with child (the implication being that she may be overdue, hence the impending induction); her belly protrudes far out from her small frame and she is often seen walking with her hand bracing her back. Emotionally, she is full to the brim with anxieties and depression as a result of her husband’s death. And yet, despite all of this burden, she continually refuses help from her mother. She doesn’t even want her mother to drive her to or be present at the birth of the child.
After Sarah’s first encounter with the film’s unnamed antagonist, during which she tries to harass Sarah into letting her in by calling out her lie about her husband sleeping and thereby revealing that she knows just a bit too much about Sarah, the police arrive. A female officer makes the immediate assumption that Sarah is being harassed by the father of her child and then later gently insists that perhaps Sarah is mistaken in thinking the assailant is a woman. The ideas inherent in the officer’s immediate assumptions are 1. that pregnant women are more likely to be harassed by the men who have impregnated them (which isn’t a completely unfounded idea) and 2. that women in general are not of such a brutal nature to harass one another violently. These assumptions are completely undermined by the narrative but betray persistent ideas about pregnant women (as very vulnerable and oftentimes hysterical, unreliable sources of information) and women in general. And it’s very interesting that the ideas are put forth by a woman who is cast in a profession that is traditionally coded masculine; it may possibly represent a barrier that is sometimes constructed between women who are, in some way, coded differently from one another in terms of gender (in this case pregnancy is coded feminine whereas the rough and tough life of a cop is coded masculine).
But the real meat of the film lies in the relationship between Sarah and her assailant. It is initially unclear why this woman is hassling Sarah, insisting that she let her in. Our sense of safety is shaken as we see her, lurking in the background unbeknownst to the vulnerable Sarah. Tension builds as the woman walks about the house as Sarah sleeps, searching for the proper tools to set her work in motion. The weapon she chooses, a pair of shears, is used persistently throughout the film as is a knitting needle (in Stallings article, she noted that these are feminine crafting tools being put to use in sinister, deadly ways). As I watched the unnamed woman poise her weapon against Sarah’s distended tummy and actually penetrate the flesh I began to think about the purpose of pregnant women in horror and the female body as a completely penetrable object.
The presence of a pregnant woman in a horror movie immediately creates a sense of tension or dread; the character is clearly pregnant for a reason, even if it’s not a driving plot element as in this film. I recently watched Cheap, a very low-budget exploitation film directed by Brad Jones (aka The Cinema Snob). One of the peripheral characters is heavily pregnant and the instant she walks on-screen, if you’re aware of the film’s premise, you know that something bad is going to happen to this character otherwise the screenwriter wouldn’t have made her pregnant. And something bad does happen to her and it’s all the more unpleasant because of her pregnancy. In this sense, pregnant characters create a state of fear; we are afraid for these characters much the way we’re afraid for a small child or an animal because in the context of horror films they are more vulnerable than a full-grown, able-bodied person.
A pregnant woman in a horror film has already demonstrated in the most literal sense that she is penetrable. She has, in most cases, had sex with a man and it has resulted in a life inside her body. Beyond that, a pregnant woman is extremely vulnerable to external penetrative forces that threaten the life of her and her unborn child. Sarah is an extreme example of this: she is one day shy of giving birth and every brutal act in this movie is all the more gutting because the viewer knows this. We know that the child inside her is experiencing the physical repercussions of the violence (and not just because of the intermittent CGI shots of the child being physically distressed in utero) and it fosters a sense of constant tension. Even as Sarah sits in the increasingly bloodier bathroom, which she does for over half of the movie (more penetrability; she locks herself inside and her attacker continually tries to penetrate the door), she is experiencing non-stop emotional and mental terror that threatens the well-being of her unborn child.
The relationship between Sarah and her attacker is the most developed of the film. Her assailant shifts back and forth from quiet threat to raving madwoman to maternal caregiver (in the darkest senses possible). She is simultaneously maternal and murderous towards Sarah while fetishizing her pregnancy. Her obsession with Sarah’s child, the driving force behind her madness, exemplifies the darkest side of maternal instincts. We learn that Sarah and her assailant have more in common than is initially thought (spoilerspoilerspoilerspoiler) when it is revealed that this woman was in the other car involved in the accident that killed Sarah’s husband and that the crash resulted in her miscarriage. Both women lost something in this accident and neither are to blame but both react in different ways. Where Sarah sinks into isolation and depression, the other woman descends into madness, deciding that she will take from Sarah what she believes Sarah has taken from her. “Will you kill me again, Sarah?” she asks as Sarah is about to deliver the killing blow, giving her pause, “You’ve already killed me once.” This sense of distorted kinship, of dark intimacy unsettles the viewer by forcing us to sympathize with our mad killer. She is older than Sarah, clearly in at least her mid-forties; it’s not outside the realm of reality to believe that the child she lost was her last chance to conceive. And for someone who may already be mentally unstable, that kind of deep, traumatizing loss could push them to horrific limits.
In terms of thematic elements, this film is not lacking. To claim that this is a ‘pointless gore flick’ betrays a complete ignorance of the fundamental elements of the story itself. This is one of the most visceral films I’ve ever seen. It is unrelenting and potentially traumatizing or triggering. There is much bloodshed; while watching I lost track of where all this blood came from and found myself several times shocked by the amount of blood-spray on the walls and floor and covering the characters. But the gore itself is not, in my opinion, just pointless blood. Pregnancy, and more specifically birth, is bloody. It is gory. It is visceral and tender and red and unbearable to watch at times. Inside is a haunting story, that is loaded with ideas and themes of the horror of pregnancy, of living in a penetrable female body, and the sometimes dark and twisted kinship between women. In the world of the horror film, the female body is one of the most vulnerable places to live in; you are open to penetration of all kinds. I recommend this film to fans of the genre or to anyone curious enough to seek it out but, as I said, it is a very emotional film to watch. If seeing the delicacy of pregnancy continually brutalized is something that could potentially upset or trigger you, take caution. But the film was a satisfying cinematic experience for me. It is a layered and purposeful film that evokes critical thought about motherhood, pregnancy and the female body.