One of the biggest fears of any parent is doing something during a child’s formative years to irreparably fuck them up. So aware are parents of every little thing that may or may not affect their children that they’re essentially transferring their own neuroses to their children in an attempt to protect them from future neuroses. It’s an impossibly fine line and one that is best acknowledged askance but never fully viewed or approached.

Given the political and social tumult everyone is constantly facing on a daily basis, it’s little surprise that horror is having something of a pop cultural renaissance within the zeitgeist. And while it has never really gone away, it’s broader reaching implications via social and political commentary has not been this on-point since the Vietnam/Watergate era. Those were the days which gifted society with Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and a host of other horror books and films. It should come as no surprise that the vast majority of mid-‘70s-through-mid-‘80s horror plots in some way revolve around the horrors of Vietnam, either experienced first-hand or via the effects of said experiences.

Children have long been favored horror fodder. Whether as malevolent little demons (The Omen) or spiritual conduits (The Sixth Sense or Poltergeist), their seemingly simplistic take on the world around them can be shaded in myriad ways to bring out the darker corners. Baby Teeth is just the latest in this lineage of mining children for screams.

Baby Teeth occupies similar territory in terms of its take on familial horror as summer film sensation Hereditary. Both take a matrilineal approach, the struggles between mother and daughter central to the plots of each. Where the film is more concerned with dealing with an unspoken, poisoned lineage and the unresolved emotions surrounding the death of a parent, the novel allows the action between mother and daughter to evolve in real time, dividing chapters equally between mother (Suzette) and daughter (Hanna) in order to provide a multi-camera, multi-perspective take on the events as they transpire.

As both husband and father, Alex is at the center of Baby Teeth, the vied-for object in the competition between mother and daughter for his affections. Hanna, mute-by-choice and malevolent by nature, hides her true self from her father in an attempt to further the chasm between Alex and Suzette in the wake of having their lives interrupted by the addition of a child. Knowing that she is in complete control of how her mother comes across to her doting father, Hanna plays the sweet, innocent child to the hilt, all the while thumbing her nose at her struggling mother.

But Suzette isn’t completely incapacitated by Hanna’s cruel streak. She manages to strike a number of subtle blows as she moves Hanna from a home school situation into a school dedicated to difficult children with special needs and the employment of a psychologist to help the family work through Hanna’s difficult behaviors. This sets up a constant back-and-forth that escalates to horrifying degrees as Hanna becomes more and more unhinged and Suzette finds herself losing her grip on reality and her sense of self.

Suzette’s self-perceived parental shortcomings are viewed as a result of her own distant mother—a woman who suffered undiagnosed and untreated mental illness that manifested itself within Suzette in the form of Crohn’s disease and a series of disfiguring surgeries aimed at correcting her gastrointestinal distress. This physical and mental weakness is at the crux of Suzette’s struggles as a parent. She incorrectly feels responsible for Hanna’s disturbing behavior, searching her memory to find clues as to what she might have done to make her daughter the way she is.

Zoje Stage allows her character arcs the requisite twists and turns to ensure a never-ending sense of creeping dread. Both mother and daughter follow their own twisted paths throughout, playing off and against each other in the hopes of winning Alex’s affections. And while there are a number of predictable beats throughout, Baby Teeth is an intriguing new entry in the family-centric horror canon.

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