It’s bad enough when all of Natasha’s friends start popping out babies—but when an infant falls into her life and latches on, the 38-year-old chef’s world turns into an actual horror show. The baby is a serial killer.
The Baby, a horror comedy from Siân Robins-Grace and Lucy Gaymer that premieres Sunday on HBO Max, seems at first like a biting critique of the absurd expectations some societies (in this case English) place on women and mothers. As the eight-episode limited series progresses, however, a haunting backstory plunges us into something far deeper and darker—an unimaginable horror that, most chilling of all, is actually not too hard to imagine.
Michelle de Swarte plays Natasha, whose sharp wit masks a softer, more vulnerable emotional core than one might imagine. Her best friends are both embracing motherhood, a journey in which she has no interest, and she can’t stop being shitty about it. She drives to a beachside cabin for an impromptu vacation to figure out her unhappiness but instead finds a young woman who’s fallen to her death—and miraculously catches the baby who followed her off a cliff.
The tiny boy and his yellow knit booties might be so cute as to merit an Anne Geddes portrait, but there’s something very wrong with this baby.
Beyond his preternatural calm after that huge fall, there’s the fact that seemingly everyone who hangs out around the infant winds up dead—except Natasha, who becomes understandably frantic when her attempts to ditch the terrifying tyke keep failing. Throw in some disturbing dream sequences, a few buckets of blood, and a disastrous meltdown at an indoor play center and you’ve got a solid horror-comedy about motherhood.
It’s not until a few episodes in, however, that the series really reveals its hand. There is no big “twist,” but there is a major reveal—one that, given sooner, could imbue earlier episodes with the spark they occasionally lack. Although the first six of The Baby’s eight half-hour episodes ultimately deliver on what one might expect from a killer-baby romp (some maternal body horror here, a demonic play-group scene there) things take a while to heat up.
Natasha spends much of the show isolated with the baby, save for a mysterious septuagenarian named Mrs. Eaves (Amira Ghazalla), whose interest in Natasha’s new ward seems… a little intense. (“He’ll bulldoze your life, destroy your relationships,” she can be heard saying in the trailer. “And once he’s got you to himself, he will destroy you.”) As fascinating as that relationship becomes, however, Natasha’s friendships—our main window into her world early on—feel generic and undercooked. Still, if The Baby’s original sin is relying a touch too heavily on broad, familiar satire in the beginning, its back half does plenty to atone as we explore her family (and the baby’s!) a little more closely.
“Still, if ‘The Baby’s’ original sin is relying a touch too heavily on broad, familiar satire in the beginning, its back half does plenty to atone as we explore her family (and the baby’s!) a little more closely.”
Natasha might have no interest in procreating, but her sister, a children’s magician named Bobbi (Amber Grappy), is practically dying of baby fever. The two observed a trauma that blew their family apart from different vantage points when they were young, which seems to have driven them in two different directions. Natasha’s the cool, guarded, slightly sour one; Bobbi is the kind-hearted, eager-to-please marshmallow. With the arrival of The Baby, the two begin to examine their shared history as well as the narratives they internalized about themselves.
But the most gripping aspect of The Baby is the ghost story that lies in its past—a waking nightmare both too horrible to imagine and, unfortunately, all too easy.
This might be a comedy, but thematically it shares a crib with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Both explore the perils of a patriarchal society that idolizes babies and treats women as reproductive chattel. In The Baby’s case, however, the horror story is rooted in history rather than dystopian fiction—a detail that should leave viewers all the more rattled.
Any fan of demonic-kid horror will obviously be a natural mark for this series, as might fans of British horror comedies. That said, it’s hard not to feel as though a lot has been left on the table. Given the premise—again, let me repeat, a demon baby!—one would not expect this series to feel so repetitive and, at times, even restrained, from the costume choices to the disaster scenes. There’s an excellent satire in here and also a blood-curdling horror story, but it seems neither has quite learned how to walk.