Monday, May 14, 2018

Movie Review: Still/Born

Still/Born ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Brandon Christensen.
Written by: Brandon Christensen and Colin Minihan.
Starring: Christie Burke (Mary), Jesse Moss (Jack), Rebecca Olson (Rachel), Jenn Griffin (Jane), Sheila McCarthy (Sheila), Sean Rogerson (Tim), Dylan Playfair (Robbie), Grace Christensen (Adam), Michael Ironside (Dr. Neilson).
I cannot help but wonder if I would have like Still/Born a little more had I not watched the film a little less than a week after Jason Reitman/Diablo Cody’s Tully. I mentioned in my review of Tully that there is certainly a history of movies using pregnancy and motherhood as a jumping off point for horror films, but that Tully played with those tropes without the comfort of the genre trappings. Still/Born is what it looks like when you do embrace those genre trappings. It’s not a bad film by any means – first time director Brandon Christensen hits all the right notes (if a little too obviously) and the lead performance by Christie Burke is quite good. It’s just that everything about the film feels a little too pat and predictable – and the horror never gets under your skin.
The film opens with the birth of Mary and Jack’s (Burke and Jesse Moss) son, Adam. They were supposed to be having twins, but one of their sons was still born. Still, the couple is trying to make the best of things with their new son – and really do seem happy. Gradually though, Mary goes from the normal tired of a new mother, to something else. She swears she is hearing things over the baby monitor – and when Jack replaces it with a video monitor, she is convinced she sees some sort of demon trying to get her baby. Is this normal post-partum depression – as a not very helpful doctor (Michael Ironside) suggests? Or something darker? This is a slow burn of a horror movie in which Mary devolves scene-by-scene into a complete, raving mess. But is she wrong?
As a director, Christensen knows his horror movie tropes, and isn’t afraid to exploit them – Jack has a nasty habit of coming up silently behind his wife for example in order to supply the audience with needless jump scares. Mostly, though, he is effective at building the tension, and then breaking it when needed. The plot continues the way you expect it to – Jack will, of course, be called away on a business trip, and things will get worse while he is away (he doesn’t believe his wife naturally). Another mother – who lives next door – is introduced, with a baby of her own. And while she and Mary are friends – as Mary devolves downward, she cannot help but wonder if the demon would be willing to take another baby. There will be Google searches, and a trip to another mother who went through the same thing, etc.
In short, in terms of story, Still/Born doesn’t break new ground – it basically follows the formula you expect it to, right up until the end. As a director, Christensen shows talent, but as with the story, I’d rather him take a few chances at some point along the way (if this is basically an indie horror audition tape for a bigger film, he did a good job though). Burke is probably the reason to see the film – it’s a very good performance – not Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, or Essie Davis in The Babadook or Charlize Theron in Tully great – but very good just the same. And the film does tap into that fear all new parents have about their new children.
Ultimately, I just wanted Still/Born to be something a little more. The raw materials are here for something genuinely scary, but the filmmakers ultimately settle on the path of least resistance. They do what they do well – I just wanted the film to feel a little more inspired than it ultimately is.

No comments:

Post a Comment