[cw: forced birth, violence, gore, alcohol, smoking]
[Note: The language in this post is centered on women, mothers, and motherhood because that is the focus of the show being discussed. Not all parents are mothers, and not only women give birth.]
Imagine the 1987 film Baby Boom, but make it weirder, bloodier, and more terrifying. Throw in a tragically cursed origin story and you have The Baby. This eight-episode British show recently released on HBO Max is categorized as comedy horror and has received mixed reviews.
Natasha is a woman in her late 30s who is angry because her closest friends are starting families. Their pregnancies and babies push her to confront herself, which is something she does not want to do, and has avoided doing for years. She decides to go on a solo weekend trip to take care of herself and sort things out. While there, she comes into possession of a baby, but it quickly turns out that she is, in fact, in the baby’s possession. She tries to unravel the mystery of the baby but finds the story runs back further than she could have imagined. Along the way, she reconnects with her sister and their mother. Natasha is forced to face past traumas. She is also pushed to make a decision about what to do with the baby she’s been caring for since episode one.
Some of the themes here are glaringly obvious. The idea of motherhood is examined not-so-subtly from multiple angles. We get to hear the perspectives of people who would do anything to have a baby, those who want nothing to do with babies, and those who have babies but are unhappy. The overarching point here: Motherhood is a choice. The horror: What happens when that choice is taken away from you?
Another important aspect of the horror in this series is isolation, an allusion to the feelings that creep up on new mothers and contribute to postpartum depression. The scarier things happen when Natasha, and other characters, are alone. She desperately tries to be around more people during one episode, which pushes her to face her mother and revisit the fraught aspect of their shared past. This highlights the importance of support and community for families raising children.
I do love a story within a story, and we get that from The Baby. However, be prepared: It is tragic. Queer love is a focus in this series, but queer trauma is as well. I think this brings up the need for some kind of balance between the importance of representation and the kinds of stories that are being told. The LGBTQ+ community has been calling for more stories of joy or just everyday life, rather than only stories of traumatic experiences.
The Baby nods to pressing issues as old as time, like parenthood as a choice and the dangers of losing autonomy over our own bodies and decisions. Michelle De Swarte as Natasha is compelling to watch. And while the actual baby is creepy, he is also so adorable.
If you’re a fan of feminist-leaning horror and do not shy away from some gore, this would be a good one to check out.