By: Elise Martino
“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." -Stephen King
In the wild world that is television horror, I often find myself being generally disappointed and asking for more when it comes to the level of fear dealt to the audience. When it comes down to it, horror on television is not, currently, in its prime. However, I did find a flicker of true scare potential when I began watching Bates Motel on A&E; which serves as a modern day prequel and tribute to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960).
The worry I initially faced was the actors' ability to portray such complex and disturbed characters. But when it came down to it, the acting is what engulfs the viewers into the show. That level of mental captivation ultimately aids in the scare-factor.
For the sake of clarity, I'm going to refer to Bates Motel as psychological horror rather than a thriller thanks to the depth of fear presented. Through the extremes of madness, it far exceeds that of “thrill.” Aside from revisiting Hitchcock’s Psycho, the most fascinating component of the show - making it as disturbing and hair-raising as possible - rests solely in the cast’s portrayal of complete insanity.
Norman Bates, portrayed by Freddie Highmore, has an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder due to childhood trauma. This causes him to not only take on the personality of his mother, but in doing so, has no concept of hallucination versus reality.
It is important to keep in mind that not all forms of dissociative identity disorder are synonymous in this manner. Rather, the show portrays one of the most severe and potentially dangerous cases.
Norman, in this case, assumes the personalities of both himself and his mother. However, the mother that he envisions is a treacherous and murderous woman. I would imagine that in any performance situation portraying such a level of insanity is an incredibly daunting task. However, Highmore makes it look effortless! Viewers probably forget he's acting.
The real battle for Norman is between his dependence on his “mother” and his inability to let her memory go. Yet he projects the situation as her being the possessive figure who refuses to be forgotten, rather than the other way around. The unhealthily obsessive and possessive “mother” that Norman portrays is no more than a reflection of his inability to cope with the idea of living without her.
Highmore captures Norman so precisely that the role encompasses his entire body; he goes completely beyond the script. From the way he stands to the way his eyebrows fluctuate as he switches between personalities, his attention to detail is incredibly precise.
As Stephen King so eloquently worded it, Norman Bates is the epitome of a situational, “We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”
Perhaps one of the most fascinating performances of Bates Motel is that of Vera Farmiga, who plays the role of Norma Bates. What is it that makes her job so challenging? Farmiga not only has to play the role of Norma in reality, but she also must play Norman’s unhealthy and psychotic projection of Norma.
In addition to this, on occasion, it is not explicitly said which Norma we are encountering on a given scene; this makes the anticipation skyrocket. The ability to portray Norma's true anxiety and fear for her son while also being able to portray the personification of Norman’s psychotic hallucinations is a remarkable talent. Her portrayal of a loved one losing their mind is both heartbreaking and terrifying.
Ultimately, it is up to the audience to decide which is the scarier thought: having your child go through a psychotic break which causes them to become a killer or to be the one experiencing the psychotic break, but having no control over your own mind? The true fear rests in the characters within the show knowing there is something wrong with Norman, but having no idea the magnitude.
If you have seen Psycho, then yes, you do know the fate of Norma and Norman, but Bates Motel matches that level of horror even though it only portrays a series of events leading up to Norman's true role as a killer.
Whichever you choose as your poison of fear, I guarantee that the cast of Bates Motel will captivate your senses. You'll simply never want to check out of this motel.
Season 5, the final season of Bates Motel, airs on A&E on Mondays at 10/9pm central. To catch up on episodes you've missed, you can stream the previous four seasons on Netflix.
Have you checked into the hotel yet?
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