Daisuke Shen’s short story in Oni Magazine, the tale of a girl whose mother begins to consume her own flesh, might be one of the most interesting horror movies I’ve never seen. Dialogue is sparse—consisting of only five phrases in total, and the scope of the narrative itself is quite small (occurring within the span of time required for a train to arrive at the station and then the protagonist’s walk home from their stop). It is the fear, blurry at the edges like a Sofia Coppola film rendered ominously in shades of soft gray and charcoal, that gives ‘A Mother’s Love’ its staying power.
She made impatient, wet noises as she ground up the painted acrylics of her nails, hacking and spitting as splintered bone caught her throat. I am helpless, I thought, and I begged the rest of the passengers to notice me, to alert me about what I should do, and yet they did nothing.
What is the heart of this anxiety, beyond simple abandonment? The potential for replication, perhaps. There is something decidedly off-putting about a reversal of the usual parent-child dynamic, particularly for daughters, who bear most often the brunt of what is considered feminized care. For daughters of immigrants and daughter of color in particular, this perversion of safety and “love” into volatile and animalistic forces might read as some kind of unfair retribution. How can we maintain our stoic veneers in the face of undeniable hostility, under threat of violence from our protectors? Shen ratchets up the tension slowly, giving us only the protagonist’s interiority to read into until the monstrosity of her surroundings is impossible to deny. The immediacy of her despair sits in the throat. Light, a corrosive force, carelessly exposes all the things we should not—but must—see. Shen reminds us that even everyday questions, hapless when ignored, can be stretched to violent, undeniable shapes. Whether or not it is in our best interests to keep them close is entirely up to us.