Lifetime is never short on female victims. Whether they’re being victimized by men, society, men, the legal system, men, the internet, or men, they’re always victims. In Lifetime‘s latest Saturday night movie, A Mother’s Nightmare, the culprit is mental illness. And some daddy issues, too. Obviously.
The title mother (Annabeth Gish) is a woman who has recently separated from her alcoholic husband (because of course she has) and is raising a depressed teenage son. The title nightmare is what ensues when said son starts dating a new student at school, an insane, manipulative girl who’s responsible for the deaths of at least two previous boyfriends.
The son, Chris (Grant Gustin, whom you might recognize as Sebastian, the mean Warbler, on Glee), does whatever his new girlfriend Vanessa (90210‘s Jessica Lowndes) says, from missing track practice to getting drunk with her in the back of the pet shop where she works (and where she is inexplicably allowed to hang out alone after hours) to ultimately cutting himself.
Vanessa also manages to falsely accuse Chris of rape, convince him that the rape actually happened, and still lure him into her arms for a deadly picnic. There’s also a blood bond and some creepy singing thrown in. Isn’t it romantic?
Thank goodness for Chris’s mom. Where would the world be without Lifetime moms? They’re always there to clean up their kids’ messes and save them from danger that they’ve brought upon themselves. Chris says it best when he tells his mom, “I’m a jerk. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” His mom ends up rescuing him from bleeding to death, so apparently without her that’s what he’d do.
You might think that Chris and his mom are the only victims in this movie. But you’d be wrong, because it’s impossible for Lifetime to depict a woman who is not a victim (see above description of Chris’s mom). So of course it turns out that Vanessa isn’t just a psychopath who ruins her boyfriends’ lives for no reason. She’s also an orphan who’s been passed from foster home to foster home. Her father abandoned her and her mother, and she found her mom dead from suicide when she was a little girl. Her mother also happened to suffer from mental illness, which she passed on to Vanessa.
Granted, this film was “inspired by true events,” so those could just be the facts, and Lifetime is presenting them exactly as they happened. You know, like they always do. However, did Fatal Honeymoon portray Gabe Watson as a victim of mental illness or give him any complexity whatsoever? Did A Killer Among Us portray the conniving father as anything other than a heartless murderer? Of course not. Those characters were men.
As Lifetime has taught us for years, male villains are just bad guys with no back-story or reason for doing the bad things they do. But female villains have obviously been forced to do crazy, violent things by their horrible pasts. Even Virtual Lies, which features another crazy woman terrorizing people, implies that the woman could have changed if she’d gotten effective help for her anger management issues.
It’s okay to portray antagonists as complex characters. Truman Capote did it in In Cold Blood, and countless movies have made the bad guys sympathetic or entertaining. However, Lifetime has a track record for turning men into one-dimensional villains and women into victims, whether they’re good or bad.
I by no means have seen every Lifetime movie, so if anyone knows of an example which contradicts this idea, please let me know. Still, in my viewing of Lifetime over the past few years, this seems to be the trend, and it has become not only predictable but quite hypocritical.
In closing, I think I’ve found the new Lifetime slogan in this movie. I know I’ve found one in practically every movie I’ve reviewed, but this one is really good. When asked why she’s forbidden from engaging in relations with the opposite sex, Vanessa responds, “I forget to do my homework when I have a boyfriend.” Just imagine it: “Lifetime. Because you forget to do your homework when you have a boyfriend.” Too long?