Those of mothers are sweet hugs; they are safe havens for souls in a storm. Mothers are saving anchors in stormy waters; beacons illuminating paths taken in the darkness of fear.
Eyes that follow and hands that ward off more or less imminent dangers: mothers are repeated figures whose emotional charge is emphasized and exploited in the world of cinema and, in particular, by that genre which of hidden fears, repressed traumas, becomes mere singer: thehorror. And in that golden field of horrific tension, the presence of the mother doubles, making herself a projection of never expiated nightmares, and internalized pains, and defender of blows dealt by incorporeal presences, born from the womb of fears and phobias.
Whether they are silent companions of obsessions, or breasts on which to rest one’s gaze to hide from the ugliness of the real and imagined world, mothers take their cinematic children by the hand, as do the spectators in the hall, accompanying them along a cathartic path through which to overcome their repressed fears. Thanks to the mothers the monsters become visible and for this reason they can be annihilated, thanks to the mothers the system of fears is shown in its mechanisms so as to deactivate it. Whether they are a contemporary revival of a Medea of the unconscious, or souls ready to sacrifice themselves for their children, from the recent (and very Italian) Pantafa (directed by Emanuele Scaringi at the cinema on March 30 by Fandango and Rai Cinema.) to cult like The Ring e Babadookthere are many horror films that have anchored themselves to this presence to open new paths, give life to new nightmares, make countless fears real.
1. Italian horror: Pantafa
What creates a bias? The reiteration of certain thoughts confirmed by the re-proposition of certain events that somehow strengthen these ideals. And so, the release of horror movies from the horrific Anglo-American production have given rise to that stereotyped thought according to which we Italians would not be able to make a film like this. And yet, we are children of Dario Argento, of Mario Bava, of the first Pupi Avati. Trying to free himself from too tight ties that are anchored to an Italian cinema too timid and too weak to catch up with overseas productions, Emanuele Scaringi with his Pantafa he collects in his hands the teachings of authors preceding him, inserting that superstitious and ghostly side of a pagan Italy into his cinematic dialogue.
The legends of villages anchored to an archaic thought, and the narratives handed down from generation to generation, are the essential basis for a system that mixes popular antiquity with the cinematic heritage of the horror genre. An exchange of jokes in which the director perfectly inserts the figure of the mother as a prodigious hyphen. Kasia Smutniak he therefore becomes a human conductor of ancient spirits, and an instrument of defense for little Nina (Greta Santi). A game of tension entirely supported by the power of the off screen and – for this reason – by an invisible capable of investing the substrate of terror generated by the sequences of a film with further anguish which, like Pantafahas nothing to envy to its English-speaking counterparts.
2. Australian Evil: Babadook
It is in the screams of little Samuel in the car that all the unbearable anguish and fear of Babadook is concentrated. In the film by Australian director Jennifer Kent, we find once again a battle between the invisible jaws of a monster ready to attack innocent victims, and the courage of a mother determined to become a warrior and protector of her son’s safety. In an intricate and tense network of tension, the viewer is called to observe the realization of his fears in a visual format: the fear of dealing with a hyperactive and unmanageable child; the fear of losing the center of one’s existence; the fear of facing the monster that becomes the horrific personification of those hidden nightmares. No jump-scareno syncopated sound: it is in the glimpses of an ashen photograph that dresses everything in funeral clothes, or in the spaces of expressions of vexed exasperation by an excellent Essie Davis as Amelia who Babadook release its terrifying power. A power that we still can’t do without, remaining sublimely enchanting with our mouths open in amazement mixed with fear.
Babadook and the others: 10 independent films that transformed horror cinema
3. The Womb of Evil: Hereditary and The Mother
In the great container of the horror genre, the figure of the mother can also rise to something mysterious, terrible, distressing. Her womb becomes a forge of evil; the gene of terror takes root in her body, taking shape in the guise of the son of nightmare and suffering. Her nemesis, more distressing and inhuman than her, creeps into the figure of her mother, releasing spores of lowest terror into the surrounding air. And of female characters that from maternal beings are transformed into personifications of evil and nightmare, the horror genre has relied on countless times, from Deep reda The house of 1000 bodiesuntil recently two titles such as Hereditary e Mother.
Released in 2018, Hereditary – The Roots of Evil marks the ambitious cinematic debut of an unconventional director like Ari Aster. Before shaking the collective imagination with the nightmares of Midsummer, the director had already taken steps to disturb our nightmares with a family of disturbing dysfunctionality, in which the mourning process is transformed into a maternal womb in which to cradle the seeds of an evil that has perhaps never been faced, but kept latent and sleepwalking. Through the power of a slow-moving camera, a bad omen is grafted into the spectator; a feeling of terror that comes entirely from a mother, and from the mother dies.
Five years prior to Hereditary, also The mother has its roots in the monstrous theme of the mother figure. A warning to the viewer already contained within the ranks of its simple title, within which to hide the power of a dual maternal role to which to entrust the destinies and nightmares of its protagonists. The mother is the story of a stolen motherhood, but also of a entrusted motherhood and a vengeful recovery from a restless spirit. A maternal triad, the one narrated by Andy Muschietti (and interpreted among others by Jessica Chastain as Annabel) with a slow pace and for this reason even more distressing and threatening. Enveloping a succession of sequences with a high rate of restless discomfort is a gloomy, ominous, shadowy photograph, just like the presence of the Mother ready to claim her role in the world.
4. La madre degli horror: Naomi Watts in The Ring e Goodnight Mommy
There are performers who find their preferred habitat in a particular genre. A cinematic comfort zone within which you can give your best. Naomi Watts she is a volcanic, chameleon-like, talented actress, capable of fitting perfectly into every genre, from the dramedy (You become young) to the dramatic one (21 grams). But it is in the ranks of horror films that the Australian actress manages to find her outlet, giving performances that are as credible and intense as they are disturbing and distressing. Performances that she, if she wants, often see her in the role of her mother. And it is in this context that her career took off for the first time in the Hollywood universe thanks to the intergenerational cult of The Ring.
The Ring, 20 years later: Samara and the concept of virality born from a cursed VHS
From Gore Verbinski’s film, Samara’s face covered by long black hair immediately impressed itself in the collective imagination. And yet, what pierces the screen is above all a Naomi Watts in the traditional (but not trivial) role of a worried mother who is ready to do anything to save her son from the grips of evil. A quest human and parental, wrapped in a glacial, cold photograph, like the lifeless bodies touched by the ghost of Samara. In fact, Verbinski’s work tends to do without the more spiritual aspect of the Japanese original (ring) to focus more on the human component and the psychological and physical implications that such events produce on the protagonists. A choice dictated by a language more akin to the western target audience, which allows Watts to underline the remorse and fears of a mother marked by a cursed presence within her small household. A role, this, which finds its apparent nemesis in Goodnight Mommy.
Wrapped in a mask that hides her face, her performance becomes a gallery of intuitions and suspicions in the viewer’s mind. A character, hers, who rises to an indispensable guide in the maze of realities so distorted as to question the very maternal role entrusted to her protagonist. The psychological thriller directed by Matt Sobel – and remake of the Austrian film of the same name by Severin Fiala – therefore finds itself playing an equal match between identity crises and insidious ambiguities. She is a lullaby of terror, Goodnight Mommy where the voice of her mother becomes the line to follow in a labyrinth ready to confuse the mind of the spectators, between domestic environments and barns cloaked in unsaid and secrets. Body without a face, that of Watts is a maternal mummy who invests with fear and infinite doubts both her own children and – by projection – her own spectators. Since she moves without identity, her character does without her name, as well as her face, limiting herself to her parental role of “mother”. She is an ambiguous, dichotomous mother with a double hidden face and for this reason even more fearsome and horrific.
After this excursus we leave you in the hands of Pantafa, with the hope that he won’t steal your breath away!