Initially, I thought that Grace is just a figment of Madeline’s imagination due to the traumatizing events that have happened to her like the death of her husband and the death of her baby. I thought that the crying was all in her head. I also thought that Patricia let Madeline keep the baby out of pity. There were manifestations that Grace was rotting in her hands, therefore I thought that she really is dead, not undead. Additionally, I thought that Madeline was just masochistic due to trauma, wherein she was the one hurting herself. Also, did Madeline do a demonic ritual to bring Grace back from the dead? Or Grace has a lineage of undead people?
This is a movie that is hard to digest. At the start of the movie, the characters were introduced in a way that is exasperating to the audience, such as the obsessive compulsiveness of Vivian and the characters’ obvious obsession with vegetarianism. Alongside with this is the introduction of a cultural taboo which is giving birth with the help of a midwife and a non-practicing doctor in the hospital.
The male characters in the movie are set aside because they are not pertinent to the issues in the movie. The female characters, on the other hand, are interesting because they are the dominant in the story, as opposed to conventional horror films where women are usually the peripheries. The women, Vivien and Madeline, are common in the maternal sense. It was evident in the movie that they are willing to compromise everything for the sake of their children. Their maternal instinct predominantly drove their identity and actions. For example, Vivian desired to be breastfed after her son died due to the feeling of lack or loss. Similarly, Madeline also desired to have her maternal instinct be fulfilled by keeping her stillbirth. Her motherly love towards Grace also miraculously willed the baby to live.
Abjection is observed in the movie when Madeline decided to keep her dead baby in her womb. It is regarded as disgusting because of several factors like poisoning from a rotting baby. It crosses lines which are not supposed to be crossed. Additionally, Madeline was willing to breastfeed despite it to be damaging her health. She was diagnosed to be anemic because she was feeding her blood to Grace. This is abject because instead of self-preservation, Madeline was willing to get sick for the possibility that Grace might still live.
In addition to that, bodily fluids like blood, breast milk, vomit, and poop were also shown in the movie. These are usually regarded as disgusting because of how they were culturally and socially constructed. The bodily fluids that are considered as taboo broken by Madeline. This is horrific for her because she’s a vegetarian. She even watched the slaughtering of cows and regarded it as a horror film.
Furthermore, there was a transformation of the Madeline and Vivien in the later part of the movie. Blood is horrific for the both of them. It was seen how their maternal instinct pushed them to kill. For example, Madeline purchased frozen meat to drain the blood and feed it to Grace. She also scooped the blood from the person that she killed so that Grace may be fed. Similarly, Vivien was also willing to kill Madeline to abduct Grace.
With this, Grace is really the ultimate symbol of horror of the film. First, she is a zombie child because she came back to life. Second, the replaces her father both in Madeline’s and Vivian’s life. Lastly, she is the reason for the obsession of both Vivian and Madeline. Furthermore, Grace is the abjection. Being that she is a corpse, there were manifestations of the dead like her rotting smell and the flies. When Grace was bathed, the water turned brownish black that signifies that she is really not normal. She also ingested what we expel. Additionally, the abject is supposedly excluded from the subject (Creed, 69). In the movie, Grace is abject. She feeds off from her mother, the subject, which ultimately threatens her mother’s life. To explain further, Grace is like a parasite that is feeding off her host that is her mother. Grace’s life is sustained for the price of the other. Lastly, Grace’s terror gets worse. It was shown in the last scene what she is capable of when she grows up. She needed flesh to be sustained, as seen in the part where Madeline’s breast was totally eaten off.
To conclude, this movie needed a post-credit scene. The ending did not give justice to Grace’s horror. May be Grace should have had a scene where she was a toddler where she was capable of killing and eating people.
Barbara Creed, “Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)