“We need to accommodate different ways of thinking. And if we can’t, we need to ask why.”
Aferlife continues to balance the tropes of late-night B-movie horror films with real-life, broad-daylight horror in Lullaby, the third episode of its second series. The episode spins on the peculiar horror associated with nursery rhymes and baby toys, as house husband Martin begins to hear voices from the baby monitor. He goes to Alison for help – much to the disdain of his wife Ruth – and they discover that a baby drowned in the bath in the house a few years ago.
Lullaby works by once again compromising the reliability of our only objective witness, Robert (in what is incidentally a powerful subplot), so that the series’ continuing inability to decide between the supernatural and the psychological informs and underpins the very real horror of the episode. Is Alison really hearing those voices, or is she, in a clever reversal of the usual medium-client relationship, only particularly suggestible to Martin’s hallucinations? Is the past being replayed in this house because there’s a malignant spirit lurking there, or is it just tragic coincidence? It seems to me that Lullaby works almost as much on its silences as on what it voices: there are these gaps in the narrative that allow interpretive instability to seep in, and that makes the whole thing very interesting. Though it takes the investigative formula of crime drama, it works in exactly the opposite direction: whereas crime drama tells us that the world can be explained, Afterlife suggests that actually it can’t. Even in the real there are gaps we can’t fill.
It’s still occasionally campy. It still leans towards melodrama, towards the lurid and the voyeuristic. But it feels like someone has really thought about Afterlife, about the nature of horror and the nature of crime, and I love that. It’s different and unsettling and interesting, and it makes me feel less bored by television in general.