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The Baby puts a clever, eerie spin on the “miracle” of motherhood

The Baby

HBO’s new horror comedy about a murderous, reality-bending infant, The Baby offers equal measure laughs & chills

Motherhood, particularly new motherhood, is a lonely time. No matter how much help you have, there are still long, hard hours where you’re left with a tiny life, one for which you are wholly responsible, often after putting your body through a massive ordeal. Throw in a lack of sleep, a lack of meals, then add society’s pressures (are you feeding the baby properly?), familial pressures (your cousin never did things that way), and the all-too pressing personal pressures (is this it? Is this the thing that will mess up my child for life?) and it’s a miracle the human race has ever chosen to propagate. As I wrote this review, a banner ad invited me to buy (in my child’s stead) a personalized book called The World’s Bestest Mommy, because there’s nothing like the pressure of a gift to remind you what you have to live up to. Now, imagine that on top of all of this, your child has the supernatural ability to kill those around him and you have The Baby.  

No, not a remake of the 1973 exploitation thriller, The Baby is instead a horror-comedy that owes a debt to Ray Bradbury’s 1946 short story “The Small Assassin,” another tale of a baby boy manipulating the world around him. Created by Siân Robins-Grace and Lucy Gaymer, it’s the story of Natasha (Michelle de Swarte), a single chef nearing 40 whose friends are falling pregnant all around her. At an eagerly anticipated girls’ poker night, Natasha feels overshadowed by her friend Mags’ (Shvorne Marks) baby (without a moment of consideration for the friend who had to bring her baby to poker night in the first place) and learns that her friend Rita (Isy Suttie) is pregnant. When Natasha’s comments cause both Mags and Rita to leave angry, Natasha decides she needs to get away and sort her head out for the weekend.  

What she gets instead of a break is an adorable little nugget who sets his sights on Natasha as his new mommy, following the untimely and uncanny demises (falling off a cliff, choking, landing on a spiked fence) of his previous “mothers.” The Baby is seemingly able to manipulate all the reality around his chosen parent (as well as apparently teleport), as Natasha’s friends and family all instantly accept that this is Natasha’s baby and has always been Natasha’s baby. No one ever even notices that the Baby doesn’t have a name. 

The baby in The Baby (HBO Max)

“It’s just got a creepy vibe,” Natasha says early on about the child, and she isn’t wrong. Almost as soon as Natasha meets him, a series of alarming and deadly events begin to happen all around her, including the introduction of Mrs. Eaves (Amira Ghazalla), an old woman who lives in her car and knows that the Baby is more than he seems. Soon, Natasha is losing sleep, alienating her friends, and reconnecting (badly) with her estranged family, all at the whim of the Baby, whom Natasha can’t bring herself to harm, yet desperately wants to escape. 

“What do you want?!” Natasha screams over and over at the crying Baby, and while she’s asking him about his greater wants (like why is he killing so many people), it’s not an unfamiliar sight to parents everywhere. What do they want? Why can’t we figure it out? Why is something seemingly so natural also so hard?  

The Baby, admittedly, has a lot on its plate. There are the pressures of motherhood, both wanted and unwanted, adoption issues, friendship woes, abortion rights, mommy groups, fancy baby accessories, familial wounds, and that’s just off the top of my head. What sets the show above this laundry list is how ably it manages these issues in a heartbreakingly realistic way. No one is managing, no matter how they seem. It’s perhaps best summed up by a frustrated Mags, who tells Natasha: “All I want is a best mate who doesn’t judge me for being a mum. Because you know what? I already feel like I’m failing at it, all the time.” Everyone in The Baby is faced with a life that isn’t what they planned, some more heartbreaking than others, like Helen (Tanya Reynolds), a woman faced with an unplanned pregnancy and seemingly no way out.

The Baby (HBO Max)

As a horror-comedy, The Baby leans on the gore-for-laughs, but never overdoes it, save for one death that will likely cause some consternation. It’s a tense watch, with Natasha on borrowed Baby time and people refusing to leave her and the Baby alone, things always feel just a moment from disaster (which, in a way, is often how it feels with an infant). As of the six episodes provided, the only weak spot was the introduction of a group of commune dwellers, a tired collection of crunchy parenting cliches who thankfully don’t get too much screentime. 

When Natasha inserts herself in Mags’ mommy group outing, a throwaway character expresses some postpartum depression-related hallucinations, a moment horrifying in how it’s never mentioned again. The Baby has no illusions that parenting is easy, or that everyone can do it the same way, but it never villainizes either side: mothers or those who aren’t. One of its messages is simple: people who don’t want children shouldn’t have to have them, and people who want children need to understand it’s not all garden parties and precious moments. Oh, and don’t anger the magic murder baby. 

The Baby is an excellent little limited series, a tense thriller with enough humor to take (some) of the edge off. De Swarte gives an incredible performance, all the more impressive for acting against a literal baby in many of her scenes. The hardest part of this review process was only receiving six of the eight episodes. I want to know what happens! I need to know what happens! That little guy has me wrapped around his chubby fingers.

The Baby premieres on HBO Max April 24th.

The Baby Trailer:

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Megan Sunday

Megan Sunday is a writer, archivist, and cohost of Let’s Get Weirding: A Dune Podcast. She lives in the DC area with her family and her growing collection of horror paperbacks.

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