In honor of Women’s History Month, every Monday in March I will discuss a horror movie that was directed by a woman.
How do you feel about the evil child sub-genre in horror? I know it has many fans, and I can’t presume to know why they like it so much, but I can guess at a couple of things. First of all, fans could be reacting positively to the conscienceless child because it gives them the vicarious thrill of being naughty. Most people don’t actually want to carry out their lives as a sociopath, but I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone occasionally fantasizes about what it would be like to take whatever you want, whenever you want. Secondly, evil in the Judeo-Christian tradition of literature (by which we are influenced in the Western world, like it or not) begins with knowledge, and everyone likes to feel smart. Adam and Eve decided that eating from the tree of knowledge provided a benefit that outweighed the bummer of being thrown out of the garden. Yeah, they weren’t sinners before they took culinary advice from a snake, but they could also be seen as kind of boring. Without conflict, there’s never a story to tell.
The Godsend doesn’t necessarily disappoint if you like obscure movies and/or an evil brat fix, provided you can handle the slow pace of British horror. Creepy, dead-eyed pregnant lady Angela Pleasence, who we know only by the name “The Stranger,” shows up at the home of Alan and Kate Marlowe, pushes out a baby in their spare room, and peaces out before morning. Apparently she does this all the time. Shudder. Serial suckas Alan and Kate (Malcolm Stoddard and Cyd Hayman), who already have at least four of their own crumb crunchers already, waste no time in starting adoption procedures. But before the ink is dry on the final papers, the baby, who they have named Bonnie (Joanne Boorman/ Wilhelmina Green), kills their youngest child while the two of them sit in their crib together.
Not that we see Bonnie do it, mind you, which I think was a good decision on the part of director Gabrielle Beaumont, but it’s in the synopsis so we know she did. Why was it a good decision? Well, it appears to me that a toddler actress has no business pantomiming a murder, but for reasons pertaining to the actual narrative, it makes the Marlowes slightly more sympathetic while we see two more of their children murdered in the next thirty minutes. Or heightens your feelings of frustration at how stupid and gullible they are, depending on how you react to killer kid movies.
See, I think that in my case the sub-genre tends to be a bit triggering. Not that I’m going to go weeping to a support group or anything, but I still get angry when I see a movie about an evil child. I’m pretty well in touch with my inner child (*cough* *immature*) and I have very vivid memories of more than one “friend” from early childhood who was always being mean/tricking me into getting in trouble when the adults weren’t looking, only to turn around and kiss their asses. When you’re six, and the person you hate most is a family friend who terrorizes you and then plays up to your mom, it’s hard to make yourself be believed when you say you don’t want to invite her over because she’s a demon. Maybe everyone has one or two of these little asshole frenemies in their anxiety closet. Hell, I couldn’t even enjoy Little House on the Prairie because of that bitch Nellie Olsen, at least not until I saw Alison Arngrim making fun of the character on one of those VH1 nostalgia shows. But I’m admittedly neurotic, so back to the movie.
You know what The Godsend has in common with more well-known evil kid movies The Omen and The Bad Seed? The child antagonists were all adopted. This is a huge boogerbear in our collective unconscious. When you don’t know a child’s origins you could be afraid of not being able to explain their behavior. Why it’s okay that your kid kills people the same way dear old Uncle George used to, I don’t know, but it makes a difference for many people. The fear of raising a child who is not your own is the entire basis of patriarchal society, when you think about it. That’s a big part of why women were traditionally supposed to be virgins until marriage, and one reason we still suffer under this Madonna/whore complex. Some guys take it as far as refusing to date a woman who has kids from before he met her. Even though Alan Marlowe knows that Bonnie isn’t theirs, he is the first to suspect her, which could be representative of this fear.
I understand that the film was adapted from a novel and that Beaumont made a faithful adaptation of it. I liked the way much of the film was shot outdoors in bright sunlight, because I always find horror movies where the action takes place in the daytime to be that much more disturbing. Humans tend to think they’re safe in the light, but not when Bonnie is around! I don’t know whether Angela Pleasence based her portrayal of The Stranger on what was written in the novel, or if the effectiveness of that character was mostly due to Beaumont’s direction, but I can’t say enough about how chilling she was. So, even though this is not an example of my favorite type of horror movie, I thought The Godsend was well-done for what it was: a very minor addition to the killer kid category. If that’s your thing, then this movie could be your thing too.