The Sinful Maternal
Motherhood in Possession Films
A timely examination of the often overlooked agency, trauma, and fluidity of pregnancy and motherhood in horror
Pregnancy, birth, and postpartum recovery are challenging experiences that impact women’s physical, mental, and emotional health in ways that have been historically minimalized, dismissed, or neglected. A mother’s body becomes a public body, physically and politically not her own, instead shared by her spouse, her children, and those around her. Her body, therefore, makes the perfect vessel for an invasive presence—or possession. The Sinful Maternal: Motherhood in Possession Films examines the role of mothers and motherhood in ten possession films, including Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Babadook, and Hereditary. Chapters discuss the work of such directors as James Wan, Jennifer Kent, Robert Eggers, and Ari Aster to address how their cinematic approaches to these films produce rich possession narratives that explore different facets of motherhood and women’s agency.
Working at the intersections of gender studies, architectural theory, trauma studies, and monster theory, with a particular focus on the treatment of (often unruly) female bodies, author Lauren Rocha investigates the ways in which motherhood is a fertile state for possession and how possession acts to influence, destabilize, and reshape identity and the self. Placing the films in chronological order, she closely analyzes the ways in which sociocultural influences create different roles women and mothers are expected to perform. Ultimately, Rocha demonstrates how possession offers a way to challenge performative motherhood to free the self.
"As the first volume solely dedicated to exploring the intersection of the maternal and the horror genre, The Sinful Maternal brings light to an understudied element in some of the most significant genre films to date."- Cynthia Miller, author of Elder Horror: Essays in Film’s Frightening Images of Aging