Birth. Outside of a kidney stone, it’s something I’ll never experience. And that’s why it has always fascinated me. Childbirth is an experience unique to women. I’ll never know the joy, responsibility, or strangeness of having something living growing inside me...
...But, thanks to the latest episode of Hulu’s Into the Dark anthology horror series, Delivered, and films like it, us cavemen are able to get a small taste of what it’s like to be pregnant from our spot at the side of the hospital bed…and the anxieties that come with it.
Director Emma Tammi first came onto the horror scene with her horrifically underrated The Wind, and with Delivered, she once again brings fans a scenario with a female protagonist that is ripe with tension, though with mixed results.
In Delivered, written by Dirk Blackman (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), Valerie (Natalie Paul) is an expectant mother who is a bit ambivalent about her pregnancy (refusing to learn the sex or even discuss naming the child), while soon-to-be-dad Tom (Joel Dupont) couldn’t be more excited. Existing on polar-opposite ends of the baby spectrum isn’t the biggest issue for the couple, though. That comes in the form of Jenny (Tina Majorino), Valerie’s new pregnant friend and mid-wife from Hell who has sinister intentions for Valerie and her baby.
Dating at least as far back as 1968 with Rosemary’s Baby, the pregnancy horror sub-genre has been around for a long time, going from Polanski’s satanic pressure-cooker to the French gore fest, Inside and even killer babies with Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive. Delivered functions like a combination of Inside sprinkled with Misery and baked into a burnt soufflé that’s lost most of the flavoring from those films.
That doesn’t mean Delivered has nothing to offer. It’s just that it’s a sub-par copycat of all that have come before it, with nothing new to add, and a script that could've done with a bit more development in the creative womb.
Tammi is like a maniacal brain surgeon in terms of getting into the psychological torment of her heroine though, and Valerie is no exception. The belly of the film might be ready to burst with clichés, but Valerie’s constant nightmares of some-thing trying to claw its way out of her and a disconnected response to anything close to resembling love for her unborn baby gets us into the stress-riddled mind of the soon-to-be mommy. Some of us might be so optimistic that we look at Valerie and think, you’re about to have a baby, be excited, but Delivered does an excellent job of getting us to sympathize with Valerie’s concept of the thing inside her as being something that is unknown, even alien to her. It isn’t that she doesn’t want it, and it isn’t that she hates Tom’s optimism. She’s simply terrified.
If only the script didn’t feel possessed to keep her in that headspace.
Natalie Paul is a fine actress, but she is consistently outshined by Majorino, not because either is “better” or “worse” than the other (though Majorino is exceptionally creepy), but because the script gives Valerie absolutely nothing to do, while giving Majorino more of a Kathy Bates-esque role to savor. Once we learn of Jenny’s intent, coming after a dinner scene at Jenny’s isolated farmhouse that is steaming with suspense, Valerie is reduced to nothing more than a screaming, crying victim to be. Paul sells the fear and will make you second guess ever driving out to the middle of nowhere to meet up with someone you just met (and seriously, why WOULD you?), but Valerie seems out of this fight before it even begins. Gone is the intense hand to hand combat of Inside, the cat and mouse battle of the wits in Misery, and even the entertaining absurdity of It’s Alive.
Delivered borrows from them all, but doesn’t manage to capture the essence of what made any of those films so memorable. Instead, this latest episode of Into the Dark goes with the motions, contracting and breathing at a slow pace that rarely reaches the heights of anything that can be called memorable.
A slow-pace which allowed me to begin asking, how does any of this even make sense, anyway? Jenny goes to such arduous, risky lengths for her plans with Valerie’s baby that I couldn’t help wondering, why not just adopt? A question the film fails to attempt answering.
But again, I don’t want to act like there’s nothing worthwhile here. I’m not Jenny. I’m not a monster.
Both actresses are riveting when the script allows them to be, and in the moments where they do face off, their rage transgresses the screen and hits viewers with the reminder to never, ever mess with a momma bear. Jenny especially, who is good for at least a few jolts to the audience with surprise outbursts of violence that caught me off guard, providing brief doses of eye-popping terror.
With a woman as talented as Tammi is behind the camera, I had hoped for a pregnancy horror film with a little more depth and understanding from the female perspective, because, believe it or not, most of these types of films, like in the rape revenge genre, have been directed by men. And that’s a shame, because films like these are a great opportunity to explore the unique anxieties of women through their eyes.
Delivered isn’t anywhere close to the worst entry in the Into the Dark series, but it also isn’t very memorable. It’s a child without a face that only a mother could truly love.
Into the Dark: Delivered arrives on Hulu May 8th.
By Matt Konopka