Okay, so let me just get this out of the way, because I know I'm going to ask it about a dozen times over the next month: Did y'all watch The Promised Neverland yet? It's awesome, and definitely lives up to the soon-to-be classic manga that it's based on. But also: Did y'all watch The Promised Neverland yet? Because if not, you may need to turn back, take about twenty minutes to devour it, and then come back to this article about how the show was able to create an amazing villain in the span of one episode. Unless you just like spoilers, in which case, you do you, my dude.
Basically, the antagonist of The Promised Neverland is a lady that goes by "Mom." And it does a really good job with making her really scary without actually doing a lot with her. She gets no grand speeches about being evil or her malicious ambitions or the dark past that led her to being the nightmare that she is. Instead, she gets less lines than most of the side characters. One kid can literally just be described as "likes to play tag," and he gets more screen time than her. Instead, you mostly learn about her through what the children say.
And that brings me to my next point: The perspective of the children is super important. When you're a child, adults are basically big trees that sometimes give you hugs. And they usually fall into two categories: comfort figures and authority figures. So when an adult that is both of those things, like Mom, suddenly turns into an enemy, it's horrifying. Other kids will steal your CapriSun and tell you that the "x" in Hunter x Hunter isn't silent. Adults will buy you more delicious juice and tell you that those kids are fake gamer boys. So to have that subverted, and to suddenly find out that an adult is preying on you is scary as hell. It breaks every idea that you've ever held dear.
Add this to the fact that the kids know very little about what life is like outside of the house, and it goes double. They can barely fathom escaping, and even if they could, what lies in the rest of the world? They surely won't survive if they stay inside the house, but would they fare any better outside of it?
It doesn't help the kids' chances that when Mom does interact, it's borderline detached. One of the reasons that a slasher villain like Michael Myers works is because his expression-less mask forces you to project your own emotions onto it. It's a blank slate that can't be reasoned with, instead making you scramble for reasons to understand it. Mom is like this, and so all you can do is sort of react in confusion and horror. Even at her warmest, when she tells Emma that she liked her because she cares "deeply about your family," you're left basking in a pool of bewilderment on retrospect. Why? What does she mean by that? TELL ME YOUR SECRETS, ANIME.
And that relatively blank slate is what makes her infinitely scarier than the grotesqueries that we encounter at the end of the episode. It's kind of like in Silence of the Lambs. In that movie, you have Buffalo Bill, who wears the skin of dead women, puts moths in the mouths of corpses, traps people in a large pit, and in the end pursues Clarice Starling in the dark like the boss of a very underrated PS2 game. But all people remember from that movie is Hannibal Lecter who, if you don't remember, is a slight man in a white t-shirt who speaks in hisses.
In the first episode of The Promised Neverland, we encounter outlandish looking monsters that eat kids, and yet, I'm writing this article about the quiet lady in the apron. Somehow, she's almost less humane than these squabbling slime demons. We get these monsters because they seem to be what they are on the surface: monsters. We're fascinated by Mom because there's so much that we don't understand.
And finally, Mom's look of rage at the end is straight out of the "slasher villain opens their eyes at the end of the movie to tease a sequel" handbook. They may as well have added the "ki ki kia ma ma ma" sound effect from Friday the 13th. You know what, someone edit that together.
All in all, the first episode of The Promised Neverland is great, and if you read this without seeing it, I hope I've convinced you to check it out. We're only one episode in, but the portrayal of Mom leaves me so excited for the next twelve.
Daniel Dockery has a Twitter. He also has a collection of Pokémon DVDs, but that seems less important right now.