An overall Gothic mood of terror and horror/the Uncanny.
Gothic props (such as the mirror) and tropes revisited: the family line and curse, the haunted house (the cellar in particular), the vampire myth/the zombie characters, the conflict between light and darkness, the physical (body, sex) pitted against the transcendental (writing, religion).
With the aesthetics of the grotesque (exaggeration, distortion, incongruity, terror flirting with the comic, an overall sense of excess)
Gothic literary intertextuality, in particular with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Oval Portrait” (the artist and his all-consuming practice) and “The Fall of the House of Usher” (a dwelling/the human psyche).
Interfilmic references to other horror films: The Shining (the family trapped in a house, the writer’s block), Panic Room (the staircase/the ‘safe’ room eventually taken over by the alien forces), The Night of the Living Dead (the zombie invasion).
(The war imagery of the final sequence might remind the viewer of some sequences from Full Metal Jacket).
The most effective dimension of the film: a brilliant mastery of the strategy of suspense… Creating disquiet beyond “normal” images… Triggering terror through cinematic language up to the final horror.
Intriguing and anxiety-inducing angles and shots/Uncompromising editing: the staging and the choreographing of menace out of the ordinary. The economy of fear within the logic of the rituals of daily life.
The Gothic does not just address past forms of haunting but engages with present terror and violence: the pervasive reality of superstition and irrationality, the chaos and destruction left in their wake.
The frequent intrusion of the supernatural into the real conjures up another literary genre: Magic Realism.
We are led further and further into the irrational and then we seem to reach a point of balance after the baby’s birth: is a return to normalcy possible—at all? Ever?
The central (agonizing) question is: What must be concealed, erased and denied for a normal life to be conducted in the wake of homicide (Cain and Abel-like brothers fighting to death)?
Murder and blood cannot be erased
(Enter Shakespeare and tragedy).
A dream life turns into a nightmare.
The encroachment of desires erodes the happy family narrative
The sense of a curse (beginning image/final image: a pattern cannot be broken, resulting in an endless repetition).
The vampire myth revisited: the artist needs the life (heart) of the other to regenerate his art.
Ultimate sacrifice of his child to his narcissism and madness.
A gradual intrusion of zombie-like characters in the wake of his vanity:
His self-focus is the root of the hysteria he facilitates and enables despite his wife warning him and appealing to his love.
Mayhem at the end : war images, a crowd becoming a mob, a contemporary landscape of disaster (while drawing on past warfare imagery: WW1, Vietnam, Iraq).
The baby’s destruction speaks to current forms of the destruction of similar innocent victims on the planet/the violation of childhood by different predatory elements, in particular greed (figured in the movie as people who want to appropriate for themselves something of the man they worship) and different forms of addiction.
Primal passions and instincts crystallized around the writer figure turned cult leader: the violence unleashed by fundamentalism and superstition.
Question: what sets off this general hysteria? Can it be stopped? Why— or why not?
The intrusion into the individual’s life and home of different collective evils and deadly forces: a parable for our dark times.
The explosion of irrationality in the midst of the domestic space.
Constant and pervasive threat in the midst of the most ordinary activities.
The family/individual level rehearsing collective fears.
NB. Mother: the title reminds us that the movie—in its first and basic dimension—stages our infantile fears. The fear that the safe place of home can be (suddenly/quickly/relentlessly/fatally) turned into an uncanny site of destruction. That the world as we know it can suddenly go wrong and erase us—or have us erased.
The film articulates our sense of threat and loss.
Our primal lack of agency in the face of forces we cannot control.