Warning: This article contains spoilers for Marianne.
Instead, there’s a face. The kind of face that looks like it was cobbled together from darkness and mischief, cratering under-eye circles, and the wispy, nightmarish drawings of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Marianne demonstrates that a human face — paired with a haunting premise and music that’s the sonic equivalent of spiders running down your spine — is enough to cement a villain as iconic forever.
Meet Marianne. Well, technically, the character with “the face” is Madame Daugeron (Mireille Herbstmeyer) — Marianne is the witch (and wife of demon Beleth, to be exact) possessing her.
Marianne has summoned acclaimed novelist Emma Larismon (Victoire du Bois) back to her gloomy coastal hometown of Elden, so she can force Emma to keep writing her as a character in her horror books. In Emma’s best-selling books, Lizzy Larck relentlessly pursues a transient evil spirit named Marianne. After a decade of writing, Emma finishes the series by killing off Lizzy. Marianne isn’t happy that she just lost her audience of millions of readers. She needs more books.
Madame Daugeron is Marianne’s first human host. Later on in the show, Marianne adopts other forms. (In the finale, for example, Marianne reveals herself to be a sleep-deprived Emily Bronte heroine in a black lace dress, a large crow, and a floating demon inspired by the Babadook, all in the short span of 40 minutes.)
While each Marianne Variation is inherently spooky, none can compare to Madame Daugeron, the character causing a (rightful) stir among Twitter’s growing Marianne hive. The first time we see Madame Daugeron, her face is poking through the small crack of a doorway, the sole brightness in a dark frame. Her expression melts into a smile that just seems wrong, like if a smile somehow signaled the opposite of happy. Her eyes bulge and do not blink. There’s no relief from her face.
Let’s just say I haven’t recovered.
The first three episodes of Marianne are a playground for Madame Daugeron and, by default, Herbstmeyer’s acting. Emma and her trembling assistant, Camille (Lucie Boujenah), first approach her as the mother of Emma’s childhood friend, not a supernatural being. She’s a quirky, troubled old lady who keeps a crow in the house. Not too weird, right?
The first signs of Marianne’s presence are grounded in the facts of Madame Daugeron’s human body – not in the supernatural. For one, her expressions are way too creepy to be human, even if they’re comprised of human features. Things get weirder when, sitting across from Emma and Camille, Madame Daugeron freely wets herself. She grabs Camille’s hand and forces her to feel the stain. “You’re scared? I’m filthy. Believe me girls, you know nothing of filth. But you will,” she says, excitedly. That exceeds “quirky old woman” behavior. Emma and Camille bolt from her house, with Madame D. trailing with ominous threats.
During those first three episodes of Marianne, Madame Daugeron’s appearances are tentpoles holding up the rest of the drama. Just when the action slumps and you relax, she appears, straightening out your spine with fear. Like Pennywise in IT, Marianne is playful. She likes to twirl her victims around to the tune of a song only she hears. In a sick way, Marianne’s fun is infectious.
Watching Marianne, my fear was also mixed with an unhinged glee and amusement on par with Madame Daugeron’s. Look, Marianne’s a demon. But — forgive me — I have to admire a reader who will do anything to get her next book. Marianne, Annie Wilkes, and Miranda Priestley should form a book club for women so powerful they demand books that haven’t yet been written.
When Marianne leaves Madame Daugeron’s body in episode 3, she slumps back into her humanity. Whereas she had been a figure of terror, Madame Daugeron now inspires pity. Her eyes, once so striking, are bandaged up – Marianne took her sight. Her voice retains its signature rasp, but loses that knife-sharp edge, curdling into sinister sweetness.
Essentially, Madame Daugeron looks the same, but is completely defanged. Marianne has moved on to other fragile, susceptible human bodies, who she can manipulate into becoming terror projectors.
Marianne remains terrifying until its climactic, exorcism-filled end. But when I remember the show, I’ll remember those eyes.
Horror was, and always will be, populated by memorable faces. In the new IT movies, Bill Skarsgard’s dancing face lends Pennywise his mischief. But IT, of course, is more than a creepy clown: He’s also a gigantic tarantula with claws, a headless child, a shape-shifter made convincing by impressive CGI. Similarly, Bonnie Aarons is magnificently well-cast as the Nun in The Conjuring, but her angular features are exaggerated by the gray makeup of the undead. It’s not just her face.
What makes Marianne so special is the horror grounded in Madame Daugeron’s humanness. What monsters could we turn into, if given the chance?