Lately, there have been a slew of noteworthy horror movies about mothering, including Hatching, Huesera: The Bone Woman, Nocebo, among others. The Shudder original, Spoonful of Sugar, is the latest to explore the anxieties surrounding motherhood. While the film is a wild, LSD-fueled trip, it’s very much rooted in a familiar fear that’s long been fertile ground for the genre.
Though director Mercedes Bryce Morgan‘s feature examines what exactly it means to be a good mother, it’s not without its religious imagery, either. It evokes Eve and the Garden of Eden more than once and has plenty to say about the power of the feminine and sexual abuse. There’s a lot to unpack with this one. Some light spoilers below.
Spoonful of Sugar’s Exploration of Motherhood
At the heart of A Spoonful of Sugar are questions surrounding motherhood. It’s the film’s set-up. Millicent (Morgan Saylor), who claims to be 21, though looks much younger, takes a break from her studies to focus on her thesis regarding children with allergies. Oh, and she frequently takes drops of LSD and has an obsession with being the perfect mom. She lands a babysitting gig watching over Johnny (Danilo Crovetti), whose medical issues are so severe he frequently wears protective gear. His mom, Rebecca (Kat Foster), is an overworked author with a new book about to launch. She needs help around the house, including care for her child. Her husband, Jacob (Myko Olivier), thinks they should take him to medical professionals.
Frequently, Jacob questions Rebecca’s decisions. For instance, he doesn’t believe their child has allergies, hence why he wants to take him to medical professionals for another opinion. Rebecca refuses to abandon Johnny to “strangers” and essentially forgo her role as his mom. Additionally, there are moments when Jacob expresses revulsion at the fact Rebecca is a mother. He struggles to be intimate with his wife and, at one point, says he can’t have sex with her anymore “because she’s a mother.”
This fear of the feminine is nothing new. Barbara Creed coined a whole theory on this with the release of her influential book The Monstrous-Feminine. In short, Creed’s theory argues that in genre films, the female becomes monstrous through her association with reproductive bodily functions and/or matriarchal tasks and roles. Not only does Jacob disagree with Rebecca’s parenting decisions, but he’s also turned off by her role as a mother. He states as much explicitly.
Millicent and Female Monstrosity
Meanwhile, Millicent’s drive to be the perfect mother makes her the film’s “monster,” at least initially. In a flashback, she tells her therapist, Dr. Welsh (Keith Powell), that she wants to be better than all the other mothers she sees. This includes moms at the park who ignore their kids to chat with other mothers. They never even look at their kids, according to Millicent. She adds, “They have these lucky lives, and they can’t even see.” It doesn’t take her long to develop a deep bond with Johnny. This pits her against Rebecca. At one point, Johnny even refers to Millicent as mommy.
Millicent also confesses to her therapist that she’s prone to violence, though he disagrees. He sees her as empathetic and reinforces traditional and stereotypical ideas about women that they aren’t capable of violence, and besides, Millicent just wants to be a good mom. Though Millicent is the monster, she also strikes back at various forms of abuse and patriarchal roles forced upon women. It complicates her perceived monstrosity and the viewer’s sympathies.
Spoonful of Sugar’s Religious Symbolism
Spoonful of Sugar’s religious imagery isn’t exactly subtle. Frequently, Millicent wears a red hoodie. That color alone has certain connotations. This becomes most evident when she seduces Jacob and continually tries to break up the family. Creed notes that the “female monster” is either constructed as a virgin or whore. Here, Millicent is both. She freaks out when Rebecca asks if she has a boyfriend, making it seem like she’s a virgin. Yet, she also wants to seduce Jacob and understands well female sexuality and the power in it.
There are a few parallels between Eve and Millicent as well. In one scene, she holds an apple on the bus and then has a vision of fornicating with the devil. He temps her just as Satan, in the form of a serpent, did so to Eve in the Garden of Eden. The apple imagery returns in other sequences too, and often, it’s associated with Millicent. Further, you can see Rebecca and Jacob’s house as a paradise of sorts, at least on the outside. At first glance, they seem like a perfect family; however, that’s not the case. Jacob and Rebecca have plenty of issues. There’s also the fact Millicent threatens its downfall because she wants to replace Rebecca as Johnny’s mom and Jacob’s lover.
Yet, there’s also power associated with Eve. She wanted knowledge and agency; hence she ate the apple. Certain actions Millicent takes throughout the film, including her revenge against an older man who abuses her and takes advantage of her, are justified. It’s also revealed, through her journal, she punished a slew of “fathers” who either did sexual things with her or were unfit parents for various other reasons. That said, because she’s frequently on LSD, it’s hard to tell if Millicent’s actions are intentionally sinister. Does she really feel she’s doing what’s right for Johnny’s sake? That’s up to the viewer to interpret.
Overall, Spoonful of Sugar is a potent film about motherhood, female monstrosity, and very flawed characters. This film is saturated in sex and violence, and though it treads some familiar ground, it still feels surprising and unhinged. It arrives on Shudder on March 2. Keep updated on the streaming service’s latest content by following my Shudder Secrets column.
Brian Fanelli is a poet and educator who also enjoys writing about the horror genre. His work has been published in The LA Times, World Literature Today, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Horror Homeroom, and elsewhere. On weekends, he enjoys going to the local drive-in theater with his wife or curling up on the couch, and binge-watching movies with their cat, Giselle.