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Unnervingly Heartwarming

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When it comes to heartwarming moments, they're usually pretty straightforward: it's a scene featuring a romantic, cutesy or purely happily moment. For the most part, they're not all that complicated and frankly, aren't meant to be anyway.

However, there are exceptions.

Here, what should be a perfectly ordinary heartwarming moment is deliberately undermined by eerie, disturbing, unpleasant or flat-out horrific elements. The reasons for this (in-universe and out) vary: in some cases, it's meant to convey an element of danger, indicating that however heartwarming this scene might be, the participants probably shouldn't relax just yet; in others, it might indicate insincerity or even manipulation of some kind; and in a few cases, there's nothing immediately dangerous or villainous going on in this moment, and the characters are just intrinsically creepy by nature.

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Whatever the case, the intended response to this isn't so much "D'aaaaaaw" as "Errrrrrrrr..."

May tie in with Creepy Cute or Creepy Good, which may feature such moments. Overlaps with Dramatic Irony when the heartwarming moment is undermined by knowledge that the readers have but the characters don't.


Examples:

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     Anime & Manga 
  • In the AKIRA, current Big Bad Tetsuo has been using his undisputed power over the ruins of Neo-Tokyo to acquire Sex Slaves; one of the few who survive the mutual drug trips, Kaori, ends up serving as something of a Morality Pet to Tetsuo, even hugging him when his withdrawal pains briefly overwhelm him. Later, when one of his soldiers enters their quarters to alert him to ongoing troubles, Tetsuo warns the man not to wake Kaori, who is still hugging him in her sleep. This might have been a genuinely touching scene... but Tetsuo is still clearly in a lot of pain, the expression on his face indicates that his sanity is hanging by a very narrow thread, and his arm has begun to mutate into a hideous mass of tentacled flesh.
  • In Mission: Yozakura Family, Dr. Kawashita congratulates Shirai on her recovery from her terminal illness several years after she left the hospital. While normally this would be a heartfelt moment, he does so while standing in front of dozens or hundreds of bodies that break apart with the slightest pressure after being treated with Hazakura like her. He then cheerfully informs her that he had the Asanos who worked so hard to get her treated murdered to hide the evidence and tells her to cherish the life they gave her, all while she's staring in wide-eyed horror at him.

     Comic Books 
  • Phase V of Zenith features Dr Michael Peyne being condemned to Death by De-aging by the Lloigor as they celebrate their victory. Over the next few issues, Peyne is left alone with his thoughts as he slowly regresses into infancy; however, in his final moments, he's visited by Ruby Fox. She apparently wanted to say goodbye, and even appears to comfort the baby; this might seem heartwarming at first... but even if this moment wasn't delivered by a stark-naked Humanoid Abomination, it swiftly becomes clear that Ruby is just gloating over a dying victim, her tone swinging from condescendingly soothing to smugly sadistic. The scene ends with Ruby throwing baby Payne into the air, where he shrinks into a fetus and vanishes.
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     Film - Animated 
  • In The Addams Family (2019), a version of this is played for laughs. After Wednesday interrupts her little brother Pugsley from attempting to shoot a crossbow bolt at something, citing that he should be practicing for his upcoming Addams family Mazurka ritual and insists that she wants to help him with as much. Pugsley is surprised and asks her why she wants to help him. She then proceeds, as the camera very slowly zooms in on Wednesday, suspenseful music plays, and Wednesday herself allows a humorously unnerving wide-eyed and raised eyebrow sporting look to come on her face, to respond with, "Because you are my brother. And...I love...you."

     Film - Live Action 
  • Thanos and Gamora's first interactions in Avengers: Infinity War reek of this trope: on the face of things, their first meeting features Thanos offering assistance to a young and extremely frightened Gamora, taking her in and even giving her a balancing game to play - during which he congratulates her on her success. It's a genuinely heartwarming moment in which Thanos gets to show off his paternal side after spending most of his previous appearances as nothing more than a genocidal extremist... but the whole scene takes place on a planet that Thanos has just conquered; in the background, his army is executing half the population, even as he encourages young Gamora to continue the game and ignore the sight of her people being shot dead en masse.
  • During the climax of Candyman, Helen agrees to sacrifice herself to save the life of the infant that the eponymous villain has kidnapped. The scene that follows is portrayed almost romantically, with Candyman demonstrating surprising tenderness towards his victim, complete with slow piano music, a Bridal Carry, and a held gaze as he assures her that they will be immortal as living urban legends. However, Candyman has still essentially ruined Helen's life by getting her framed as a murderer, so the romance of the scene has a distinct undercurrent of wrongness about it. And then Candyman reveals that under his coat, he's just a skeleton wreathed in the many hundreds of bees that killed him, and as he leans in for a kiss, we see even more of the damn things pouring out of his mouth...
  • In the finale of Hannibal, the eponymous Serial Killer finds himself getting into a friendly chat with the kid sitting next to him on the plane, and even shares some of his lunchbox when prompted. All very sweet - except for the fact that the item that the kid has just helped himself to is a sample of Paul Krendler's brains.
  • In Let the Right One In, after Oskar saves vampire Eli from a would-be vampire hunter, Eli rewards him with a kiss on the lips, which would be adorable... if her mouth wasn't filled with the vampire hunter's blood.
  • Tale of Tales basically runs on being deliberately unsettling. In particular, there are several moments when Princess Viola's husband acts tenderly towards her (as tenderly as he can, at least). He is also a huge, brutish Frazetta Man ogre to whom she is married against her will and who regularly rapes her, not to mention that he makes a bloodbath of her would-be rescuers. The ogre and Viola share one particularly affectionate moment with hand-holding and held gazes right after that bloodbath and right before Viola manages to kill him.
  • Tragedy Girls is a Slasher Movie about two teenage serial killers, so what few heartwarming moments there are fall squarely into this category.
    • The titular Tragedy Girls, Sadie and McKayla have the closest and truest friendship you could ask for, share everything, are extremely physically affectionate, and would do anything to help one another. This is because they're both violent psychopaths who are drawn together by their mutual interest in murder.
    • They both have genuinely good relationships with their parents; Sadie regularly cooks for her father and behaves affectionately towards him, and McKayla's parents obviously adore her and are very concerned for her well-being when the murder spree begins. All of this helps underline how painfully clueless they are about what monsters their daughters are—and that they're responsible for the killing spree in the first place!

     Literature 
  • In one of the minor encounters of The Book of Lost Things, David is captured by a huntress who has been Hunting the Most Dangerous Game by grafting the living heads of children onto the bodies of animals. She treats him quite civilly, complimenting David's intelligence and encouraging him not to lose hope, even washing his face and kissing him. It's eerily sweet... but the Huntress has also been very open about the fact that she's planning to graft David's head on a fox's body and then hunt him down the next day: she's encouraging him to be hopeful because she wants her prey to be an entertaining hunt.
  • In the Nevermoor books, the Big Bad genuinely wants Morrigan to be his apprentice, and expresses admiration for her abilities multiple times. He even helps her out of a bind a few times. However, all this is undermined by the fact that he's a complete sociopath who (incorrectly) believes that Morrigan is, deep down, just as bad as he is, and constantly tries to lead her down a dark path, meaning that even his already-limited Pet the Dog moments are ruined by all the manipulation and headgames. Consequentially, whenever he compliments her or offers his help, Morrigan is creeped the hell out, and seems to dislike his positive attention even more than she dislikes him openly threatening her.
  • In The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, Schaffa becomes a kind Parental Substitute for Nassun, who desperately needs the support and affection. The reader knows Shaffa from The Fifth Season as a merciless, villainous Mage Killer with many child victims, who terrorized Nassun's mother in particular and would have killed Nassun were it not for the Evil Earth manipulating his mind to advance its plans.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has Petyr Baelish's interactions with Sansa. Outwardly, it's a relief to see her treated with kindness after her life in King's Landing, and the author has mentioned that Baelish does genuinely care for Sansa a lot. However, Baelish is one of the main reasons she ended up tormented and humiliated in King's Landing in the first place; plus, he makes her pose as his daughter while at the same time forcing kisses on her - even iffy considering he was in love with her mother.

     Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Early in the second season, Spike and Drusilla are completely devoted to each other despite the fact that she is quite out of her mind. Their first episode ends with them going off to relax and watch tv together - after Spike has just casually murdered the local Big Bad, who looks like a little kid.
    • In "Once More, With Feeling" Tara sings the seemingly heartwarming love song "Under Your Spell" to Willow, which is extremely uncomfortable for the audience, who are aware of the Dramatic Irony in Tara's lyrics, as she doesn't know that she has literally been put under a spell by Willow to make her forget a fight they had recently had.
  • Farscape:
    • The episode "Bone To Be Wild" ends with Scorpius making the acquaintance of M'Lee, a bone-devouring predator in the guise of a Damsel in Distress. For some reason, the normally-heartless commander demonstrates a surprisingly compassionate side, taking her in and even hugging her. It's made abundantly clear that this scene isn't as adorable as it first appears: M'Lee is clearly sizing Scorpius up for her next meal, and Scorpius is most likely being Affably Evil so he can use M'Lee for his own ends - further evidenced by the fact that he doesn't seem too concerned when the guard he'd assigned to her mysteriously vanishes in the next episode.
    • In "Look At The Princess Part 1," Scorpius reintroduces himself to Crichton by striding into the room and warmly hugging him around the shoulders, treating him as a long-lost friend. It's a bizarrely sweet touch neatly undercut by the fact that Scorpius has tortured Crichton very brutally in the past, and is likely planning on doing the same if he can manage to recapture him; for good measure, the merest sight of Scorpius prompts Crichton to suffer a flashback.
  • Invoked in the Friends episode "The On With the Butt": after Joey gets fired as Al Pacino's "stunt butt," the gang tries to cheer him up, but he says that his mom will be disappointed - because she was so happy that she would get to his see his butt in an Al Pacino movie; Chandler responds, "Something so sweet and... disturbing about that."
  • Hannibal: Any time Hannibal is nice to Will (or Margot or Abigail or, you know what, anybody) is creepy, even if he genuinely seems to mean what he says, because he's still a cannibalistic Serial Killer who won't hesitate to manipulate, torment, and ruin the lives of the people he claims to care about. Especially Will, who suffers a lot by his hands, and yet the final season confirms Hannibal's in love with him, which Will reciprocates by the time of the finale.
    Hannibal: Office hours are for patients. My kitchen is always open to friends.
  • The Haunting of Hill House:
    • In episode 5, "The Bent-Neck Lady," Nelly's dance with Arthur appears to be a heartwarming moment of husband and wife re-enacting their wedding party, complete with Heavenly Day playing in the background. Trouble is, Arthur died months ago, and the whole thing takes place in an illusion cooked up by Hill House to keep Nelly complacent; the heartwarming elements are frequently undermined by the camera Cutting Back to Reality - revealing that Nelly is dancing alone through the ruined house. Plus, the big Orbital Kiss reveals that the illusions of Nelly's family are being subtly replaced by the ghosts of Hill House...
    • In the series finale, Luke is unexpectedly reunited with Abigail, Nelly and his mother in a surprisingly adorable scene. However, something's immediately off: his mother seems a little too eager to keep him pacified, Nelly keeps whispering "don't" and "go," and Luke's growing alarm undercuts any sentimentality of the moment. Luke is temporarily dead in this scene, and the heavenly setting is another attempt by the House to keep him calm while it devours him.
  • The Haunting of Bly Manor: The scene in which Miles apologises to Dani for his earlier misbehaviour by giving her a bouquet of flowers might have been cute and heartwarming... except for the fact that Miles appears to be flirting with Dani, even stroking her hair. Quite apart from the off-putting nature of a ten-year-old flirting with his adult au pair, Dani is clearly alarmed by the hair-stroking and not at all comfortable with anything in this scene. For good measure, it's revealed that Miles is frequently possessed by the ghost of Peter Quint, meaning that an adult is essentially using the body of a child to make sexual advances on a grown woman.
  • In Liquidation, the tender and loving relationship of Chekan and Ida is coupled with the fact that the two of them are vicious bandits with zero empathy for anyone except each other. For example, Chekan hurries to buy eclairs (Ida's favourite treat), and immediately afterwards coldly shoots two men. When Ida sees the box of eclairs covered in blood, as soon as she learns the blood isn't Chekan's they both just shrug the matter off.
  • This is essentially the premise of WandaVision. Wanda and Vision are living a seemingly idyllic life as a married couple in a town reminiscent of an old-timey sitcom, but the lack of an explanation for how Vision is Back from the Dead, various hints that there is something off about the town and all of its residents coming off as Stepford Smilers can make even the show's most heartwarming moments seem disturbing rather than uplifting.

     Video Games 
  • The epilogue of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls shows that Nagito rescued Monaca from death. Any other time, saving a little girl would be seen as heroic and adorable, but given that both are manipulative bastards planning on turning Monaca into the next Junko Enoshima, it comes off as extremely creepy.
  • The good ending of Eversion has the hero rescuing and embracing the Princess... only they're now both monsters.
  • The Secret World
    • The player's interactions with The Black Signal AKA "John" are layered with this: he genuinely wants to be your friend, and most of his scenes with you feature him demonstrating respect, admiration, and even a bit of affection for you. At times, he even seems to be leaning on you for emotional support... but the fact remains that John is a disembodied Eldritch Abomination who has casually Mind Raped several people across Tokyo and will gladly murder a child if you can't stop him in time. Being his friend is not a good thing.
    • At one point, it's possible to stumble upon a letter from Lilith to Uta Bloody Valentine, in which the legendary Humanoid Abomination treats Uta as if she really were her long-lost daughter. It's a surprisingly sweet moment... except for the fact that the Mother of Monsters is giving Uta the "So Proud of You" treatment for becoming a cold-blood psychopath and adopting the life of a professional assassin.
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     Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: When BMO befriends a sapient bubble in the episode "BMO lost" it gets popped in the end. After hearing Bubble's voice again, BMO thinks, he goes crazy. Bubble assures him, that his is fine, having been "air" the entire time, but he forgot as he got trapped in the bubble. In the end BMO is still sad that air, now that he isn't lost anymore, wouldn't need him to feel at home. Air responds with this:
    Bubble/Air: "Nooo, see that's what's so great. Now we can be together forever, BMO, every minute of every day. No more privacy, no more quiet, no more alone. Every room you ever go in, I'll already be there... waiting... forever and ever, until the end of time."
    To which BMO's response is a simple "Yaaaaay!!" while happily waving his hands around.
  • DuckTales (2017): The ending of the episode, "What Ever Happened to Della Duck?!", is beyond heartwarming. Della finds helpful aliens in the form of the Moonlanders, who's civilization is made of gold, allowing her to fix her ship. Only for the two Moonlanders that found her to have this conversation.
    Penumbra: I can't believe you're just gonna let that Moon hater run free. You've gone Earth-soft.
    Lunaris: That Earth dweller managed to defeat our greatest enemy like it was nothing. She could be useful.
    Penumbra: Or dangerous. (to Della) Watch your back, Earth dweller.
  • Played for laughs in the Rick and Morty episode "Edge of Tomorty": here, Rick ends up temporarily stranded in a universe where the dominant life-forms are giant parasitoid wasps; to his surprise, the wasp version of him turns out to be a lot nicer than most Ricks in the multiverse, and invites him to stay for dinner. What follows should be a heartwarming moment: Wasp!Jerry and Beth are shown to be Happily Married, Wasp!Rick respects Beth's decisions without trying to manipulate her, his relationship with Wasp!Morty is a lot healthier, and overall, everyone seems perfectly happy. It's just that the meal is a caterpillar version of Mr Goldenfold - who is screaming in agony as the family devours him alive. And Morty eats the poor bastard's larvae as well. All while sentimental music plays in the background.
  • Steven Universe: Pearl teaches Connie sword fighting and sings Do it for Her. At the start, it comes off as your typical training montage but, as the song goes on, it becomes clear Pearl is projecting her unresolved war trauma onto Connie and starts encouraging her to be self-sacrificial for Steven. This does not go unnoticed, as Steven is obviously alarmed.
    What they don't know
    Is your real advantage
    When you live for someone
    You're prepared to die
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