(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
As Into The Dark’s second season cycles through the calendar anew, it’s becoming apparent which months can withstand multiple cinematic iterations of the same holiday. December? Candy canes and Christmastime cadavers. October? Trick or treat terrorization. May? Chelsea Stardust already dared to question how far a matriarch’s devotion might reach in All That We Destroy, but there are plenty more maternal modifications that can reveal the horrors of motherhood. Emma Tammi’s Delivered, for example, takes a less-graphic frontierswoman’s swing at Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo Inside. More in-line with Tammi’s debut The Wind, which relies on atmosphere over action to sell the inherent fears of reproductive creation.
Val (Natalie Paul) and Tom (Michael Cassidy) await the birth of their baby boy or girl, gender not yet revealed. Regular weekdays now consist of prenatal yoga at “Mamaste,” one single doctor-approved caffeinated beverage, and plenty of rest as Val’s due date rapidly approaches. Tom glows a proud fatherly aura, but Val projects hesitation under her otherwise exhausted demeanor. That’s when Jenny (Tina Majorino) enters both their lives as Val’s preggo gal-pal, someone who can share in morning sickness gripes. Val and Tom don’t think twice when Jenny invites them over for dinner, but that doesn’t stop a nice homecooked meal from revealing Jenny’s more alarming intentions.
By describing Delivered as hints of Misery and Inside blended tother like pureed peas and carrots, horror fans should suspect the gist of Dirk Blackman’s screenplay. Jenny is the Annie Wilkes to Val’s Paul Sheldon, while Maury and Bustillo’s baby-extraction grotesquery provides the impetus for Delivered. This idea that motherhood can be both petrifying and lifechanging, coupled with a woman’s bodily rights and the endurance gauntlet that is nurturing a motherflippin’ human within your “belly.” Tammi isn’t one to sugarcoat Val’s discomfort, hair-trigger vomiting, or mental anguish during the final pregnant days of Blackman’s script. An underlying subtext of “earning” or “deserving” motherhood drives Jenny’s criminal motivations, as an added layer of tragic uncertainty that translates into even more worries.
It’s in this fight between kidnapper and soon-to-be parent that Delivered defines itself. Woman versus woman, as Jenny drops her mousey facade and reveals herself to be the kind of “friend” who’ll chain you up and claim your unborn kin. Actress Tina Majorino (yes, from Napoleon Dynamite) grants her character the psychotic breakdown Into The Dark deserves, but does Blackman’s narrative sustain even eighty minutes worth of expansion? The longer we spend imprisoned on Jenny’s isolated farmland (Val’s escape attempts falling on deaf forestation ears), the more we become anxious for that one fateful slipup that’ll shift power dynamics. Maybe out of frustration, perhaps out of suspenseful intrigue.
Tammi’s cinematic connection to childbirth and a mother’s wartorn mindset sustains throughout Val’s acceptance of her impending role. It could be a small decorative choice like placing a bunny statue front-and-center during a pivotal interaction because rabbits symbolize fertility. Other times it’s the defeat and suffering that drains Val’s spirits as she upchucks (again) while a tummy-dweller attempts to punch through her fleshy lining. Tammi cues a few horror-spiked interludes where Val dreams about her baby’s arm clawing out Alien-style or the representation of a miscarriage on screen. Otherwise, tension derives from more contemplative arguments as Jenny wrestles with Val both physically and psychologically over the fate of whatever’s about to burst out Val’s internal canal. Tom only ever exists as a supporting character obstacle that’s easily hurdled, same with Val’s ex-lover Riley (Micah Parker), who flies in from Chicago unannounced after being purposefully ignored.
What’s unfortunate is how Delivered doesn’t permit Tammi the same atmospheric complexities of The Wind, since her follow-up must adhere to Blumhouse’s tight Into The Dark schedules (less time, less freedom). Where The Wind maximizes silence in unification with Ben Lovett’s score (who reteams on Delivered), Tammi works on a more basic genre projection in the form of Val’s immediate survival. It’s a character study that slows down once Jenny’s lockdown settles into a second structural act with an almost inevitable hindrance. We know not everything can play according to Jenny’s master plan (either live alongside Val and baby or kill Val, snatch baby), and yet conclusion climaxes seem so far away as midsection doldrums spin their squeaky wheels.
I like a lot about how Emma Tammi handles Delivered, but not as much the packaged product. Mother’s Day isn’t pleasant for some who’ve endured trauma or hardships, nor does motherhood come easy to all who answer the call. Delivered is stuck somewhere between fearless depictions of women’s maternal courage and a rudimentary hostage scenario, with your mileage dependant on an appreciation of the former. Tina Majorino rightfully steals most scenes, antagonistic and incensed in a pint-sized package, which helps accentuate Natalie Parker’s more expected realizations. All in all, a thriller without an abundance of thrills but execution and vision prevails (by inter-series catalog standards).
/Film Rating: 6 out of 10
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