Posted on June 7, 2020

Delivered: Misery Meets Slavery

Dawn Keetley

Released on May 8, 2020, Delivered is the Mother’s Day entry in Hulu’s ongoing Into the Dark anthology horror series from the television branch of Blumhouse Productions. It’s the eighth in the twelve-episode second season and is directed by Emma Tammi, director of The Wind (2018). Delivered has been compared, including by the director itself, to Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Misery (1990). However, it also, I argue, evokes Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017). And that makes it even more interesting.

Delivered follows a pregnant Valerie (Natalie Paul), a woman who is clearly ambivalent about her pregnancy. She also seems less than happy with her husband, Tom (Michael Cassidy), and it soon becomes clear that there is another man in her life, Riley (Micah Parker), to whom she refuses to talk. Valerie’s alienation from her life is effectively expressed by Natalie Paul and by director Tammi. She appears to be uninvolved in her life, detached from things and people around her, going through the motions of doctor’s appointments (which she doesn’t tell her husband about) and “Mamaste” childbirth classes.

Jenny (Tina Majorino) tracks Val (Natalie Paul) down to a coffee shop.

At “Mamaste” class, Valerie meets another pregnant woman, Jenny (Tina Majorino), who then “accidentally” meets Val at a coffee shop (warning bells!) and soon invites Valerie and Tom out to her farmhouse for dinner. It is at this dinner that things take a turn, although perceptive viewers will already have found something off about Jenny’s pursuit of Valerie and Tom. After Jenny drugs Valerie and kills Tom, the film veers into a combination of Misery and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992). Jenny wants Valerie’s baby; she seems bent on raising it with Valerie at first, telling her “It’s our baby” and “Val, you’re the one.” But Jenny is also prepared to raise Val’s baby by herself if Val remain uncooperative. And Val does remain uncooperative, so Jenny resorts to more and more violent means to keep her from escaping.

Delivered is an effective entry into what John Kenneth Muir called the “interloper” horror subgenre—dominant in the 1990s and a fairly consistent staple of the horror tradition ever since.[i] The pacing works to sustain the tension and, most of all, both Natalie Paul’s and Tina Majorino’s performances are exceptional. And even though Val (understandably) screams at Jenny, at one point late in the film, “You’re a monster. A fucking crazy bitch,” the film doesn’t turn Jenny into a one-note crazy monster.

Jenny is humanized. At one point, Val is left alone for long enough to discover a box of newspaper clippings and other documents that reveal Jenny’s history—sustained sexual and violent abuse by her parents whom she finally murdered. They took her baby in the most brutal way and left her pathologically needing another. It’s a rather undeveloped backstory, but even Val seems able, fleetingly at least, to see Jenny as a damaged human rather than a monster because of it.

What is deeply surprising about reviews of Delivered and interviews with Tammi, however, is that there has been no discussion of race. The film has been positioned, it seems, as about “motherhood” and fears of motherhood, hence Tammi’s centering not only Misery but Rosemary’s Baby as the central influences on the film. She has said that Delivered is “structurally” like Misery but with the “twist” of a “fear of motherhood.” But, there is more going on than that. Valerie is black in an otherwise almost entirely white diegetic world. She is a black woman surrounded in everything she does by white people. The mise-en-scène is gleamingly white, including the people, and much of the filming is done in sunlight.[ii] And yet race is never raised in the film. There is never that moment when race is flagged as crucially important to the characters’ lives—that moment that happens in Jordan Peele’s Get Out, for instance, when Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) finally asks Rose (Allison Williams): “Do your parents know I’m black?”

Perhaps my being unable to not see race in this film is the difference between May 8, when Delivered came out, and June 6, when I watched it. Everyone was overwhelmingly preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic when Delivered premiered on Hulu. [iii] On June 6, on the other hand, the US is gripped by the protests against the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and systemic racism in the criminal justice system. So, in a crucial scene that may well have been meant to show only Valerie’s unease about motherhood, I could not help but see (also) her unease about race—about being a black mother in a white world.

Tom (Michael Cassidy) assembles the crib

The scene occurs early on after Val gets up one morning to find Tom constructing a crib. While this moment certainly elicits Val’s ambivalence about motherhood (and about Tom), the camera focuses on the side of the box the crib came in to signal, I think, another reason for Val’s dread. This shot tellingly repeats one from an earlier scene, and it shows a picture of a happy mother and baby on the side of the crib box, a happy white mother and baby. Val stares at the picture on the box, and the camera pans up at her to capture not just anxiety but what also seems like anger, hostility. And then Val snaps at Tom, “I don’t like it. Put it back.”

Valerie (Natalie Paul) looks at the crib box

The box, like seemingly everything in Val’s life, emphasizes whiteness as the norm and erases blackness. As Peele showed so effectively in Get Out, racism pervades those spaces where it goes unspoken—and, as Chris finds out, not talking about it, trying to avoid it, will blow up in your face.

Like Rose in Get Out, the very-white Jenny has no qualms about using the bodies of black people to get what she wants. Indeed, there’s a quite explicit nod to Get Out when Val discovers a file box of photographs of prior mothers-to-be whom Jenny has kidnapped and imprisoned, chasing her elusive baby. As the final scenes of the film play out, there are, also as in Get Out, unmistakable undertones of slavery.  In an old-fashioned, isolated farmhouse that definitely evokes a plantation (even more so than the Armitages’ mansion in Get Out), Valerie is chained to the bed, with a literal chain around her ankle. After she briefly escapes, Jenny hobbles her. And the white Jenny is planning on stealing Val’s baby.

Val chained to the bed

In all of these ways, Delivered clearly evokes slavery. Indeed, at the end, Val’s ambivalence about her baby resolves in a way that evokes one of the very worst of slavery’s horrors, as Val says to her unborn baby: “One thing I do know. I swear. She will not have you.” Here, Delivered evokes Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the stories of many slave women whose stories Morrison crystallized in Sethe.

Certainly, Jenny is pathologically damaged, enacting her very individual trauma and abuse on the bodies of women of any and all races. But Delivered is about her abduction of Val, a black woman, and her intent to steal Val’s black baby—and so individual pathology serves also to stand for a more collective and systemic pathology. Indeed, as Val resolves at all costs to save her baby, it becomes clear that Val’s earlier ambivalence about pregnancy was almost certainly connected to the white world she inhabited, in the relentless whiteness of what motherhood looked like when she looked around her.

Val is finally in a space with another black person

In the last scene, as Val is in the hospital, we finally see another African-American character, a nurse. But as Val looks at her, she transforms into Jenny—a white woman replacing the only other black woman in the film. This turns out to be a nightmare, but it signals that it’s the nightmare Val was living in all along.

Delivered is streaming on Hulu.



[i] John Kenneth Muir, Horror Films of the 1990s (McFarland, 2011), pp. 23-25.

[ii] In one interview, when she’s talking about directing The Wind, Tammi mentions Ari Aster’s use of sunlight in Midsommar.

[iii] In an interview, Tammi mentions the circumstances of Delivered’s release: “We did not realize that we would be doing a movie about cabin fever while everyone is at home with cabin fever, but anyway, it’s an opportunity to get lost in someone else’s house for a little while, and forget your own.”


RELATED: A collection of essays on Get Out, including several that consider its representation of slavery; an essay on Get Out and scientific racism; an essay on Get Out and white privilege; and one on how Get Out echoes The Stepford Wives.

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