There isn’t anything that feels more homely, and safe, as a mother. Be it their cooking, their embrace, their conversation, it’s emblematic of all we hold dear in the world what makes us feel most sheltered and secure. Naturally, the horror genre has a habit of turning our greatest securities and turning them into a source of great anxiety. It’s what has given the Paranormal Activity such longevity as a franchise, for it violates our home comforts.
Motherhood has naturally been a frequent, returning theme in horror productions, as seen in the new Irish flick The Hole in the Ground, by newcomer Lee Cronin, and starring Seana Kerslake in the leading role, as the aforementioned single parent. In this it’s not so much the fear from a child’s perspective, but instead tapping into and exploring the anxieties within being a mother. That ingrained maternal protection, the unwavering inclination to do absolutely anything for your offspring is a scary thought, tapping into our psyche and just what we could be capable of in the name of love.
In the case of this feature, it’s that sense of losing your child, not physically as such, but feeling as though you no longer know who they are, without that same unspoken dialogue. This is a fascinating theme to explore in cinema, for it’s something so many parents have to go through, their little baby who is all theirs through childhood then becomes a teenager, they start developing their own personality and independence, and a mother can feel like she no longer knows her own son, which is what Kerslake’s Sarah is beginning to feel about Chris, played by James Quinn Markey.
For Kerslake, she feels it’s the sense of feeling distant to somebody close which is so scary. “I loved the idea of someone you think you know, not knowing them,” she told Hot Corn. “Whether that be a parent or a child, the idea of never truly knowing someone, because you’re never inside their head, you’re never in their innermost thoughts, and that’s kind of terrifying. The reverse too, somebody you think is there to protect and look after you.”
When we asked Cronin the same question, as to why motherhood is such a prevalent theme in the horror genre, and why he sought to tackle it, he merely said, “As an Irish person perhaps it’s because we’re all mammy’s boys,” which, to be fair, could also be true too.
In recent memory, Hereditary was another horror film that looked into the role of a mother and tapped into similar means of evoking fear in the viewer, as a genre that takes real life anxieties and through the familiar tropes and beats of the genre at hand, amplifies them for our viewing displeasure, after all, often the best way to fully understand reality, is to step right out of it – and it’s why horror films so often offer the very best, and most raw and authentic take on humanity, even when presented in such supernatural surroundings. The Babadook being a perfect example of this, as a profound study of mental illness, metaphorically told through horror devices – and again, another film that uses motherhood and maternal instincts to its storytelling advantage.
Then you have the heightened emotionality of pregnancy as a narrative decide. Take Prevenge by Alice Lowe, or Mother! by Darren Aronofsky, while you can’t not discuss Rosemary’s Baby in this same conversation, telling the tale of a pregnant woman who becomes so obsessed with paranoia at her unborn child’s safety, it starts to control her life.
So motherhood is a theme we’ve seen before, and will see again, for it comes with so many facets and potential in this genre for maternal (or paternal) fears are something that we will always resonate with, no matter if we’re parent or not. And given the wealth of great horror to derive from this theme, with The Hole in the Ground being another, we’re not complaining, either.