STILL/BORN (2017)

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Studio:       Digital Inteference
Director:    Brandon Christensen
Writer:       Colin Minihan, Brandon Christensen
Producer:  Colin Minihan, Chris Ball, Kurtis David Harder
Stars:     Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson, Jenn Griffin, Michael Ironside, Sheila McCarthy

Review Score:


Summary:

A young mother reeling from post-partum psychosis comes to believe a demon is trying to steal her newborn child.


Synopsis:     

Review:

For Mary, the joy of her infant son Adam’s birth is overshadowed by the devastating stillborn death of Adam’s twin brother Thomas.  Mary’s concerned husband Jack relocates them to a spacious new home in secluded suburbia while Mary makes fast friends with their neighbor Rachel.  But fresh faces, new surroundings, and even post-partum medication can’t spin Mary’s motherhood mindset off its deepening descent into depression.

Putting Mary further on edge is a curious croak heard through the baby monitor in the middle of the night.  Vaulting Mary over that edge is the sudden sight of a furtive figure darting toward Adam’s crib, only to find Adam untouched in his room.  Yet what sends Mary’s mind plummeting is a haunting hallucination of horror inside the empty crib intended for Thomas.

Mary’s husband and mother assume the pressures of parenthood are taking their toll.  Mary’s psychiatrist assures her that the stress of losing one son has her overly worried about the other.  Mary however, thinks something sinister is out to snatch Adam, even if no one is willing to believe her.

Already unsettled by the house’s hollow hallways after Jack leaves for a trip, Mary becomes certain she and Adam are not alone.  Conspiratorial whispers and seemingly paranormal activity continue consuming Mary with paranoia.  The key to unlocking this mystery lies with another disturbed mother who confirms Mary’s worst fears.  Otherworldly evil wants her baby.  And it won’t stop until another child is eaten.

You might thumb through the above and think, “Still/Born” sounds familiar.  Indeed, you’d be right.

An unreliable narrator immersed in “is she or isn’t she crazy?” hysterics.  A doubting husband adding ‘absentee’ as an adjective at an inopportune time.  A model-quality mistress planting seeds of suspected infidelity.  A convenient character who provides ninth inning exposition the first act couldn’t cover.  Whether it is anxiety associated with a baby who might drown in rising bathwater or tiptoeing toward a shadow for an “it’s only me!” tension pop, “Still/Born” stuffs itself exclusively with elements you’ve seen numerous times before.

Yet the movie commands that every one of those clichés be put to good use.  “Still/Born” may not be innovative, but it is entertaining.  Tiptop production design for a low-budget indie and a camera confident in how it captures creepiness deliver a straight shot of cinematic suspense.  When everything is said and done, “Still/Born” taps into maternal panic in the form of supernatural thrills with haunted house horror and psychological scares.

Originality ends up as less of an enemy than the movie’s clunkily cobbled editing.  “Still/Born” trips into a first half hour that leaves Road Runner clouds in the wake of how fast Mary ties on a new BFF or Jack rockets into a relationship with the temptress next door.  However those point As raced to their point Bs, it must be depicted in scenes set offscreen or dropped on the cutting room floor.  Audiences are left to draw obvious conclusions for themselves, since minorly important minutes appear to be stripped here and there.

There’s also a burden of unnecessarily shuffled parallel plotlines.  For instance, follow the sequencing below:

  • A: Adam’s nursery window shatters.
  • B: Mary and Rachel share a conversation and Mary handles a personal chore.
  • A: Mary thinks to examine footage of the window incident, which leads to uncovering a connection to another woman in a similar situation.
  • B: Mary experiences more paranormal activity before having one more curious encounter with Rachel.
  • A: Mary takes another look at the other woman’s photo, and finally makes a move to go see her.

The sensible thing to do here is to mount Mary’s asides on their own arc, then tackle the other woman discoveries in event order.  Instead, the story sees Mary pausing and returning twice to pick up where she left off.  Narrative necessities don’t demand intertwining threads, yet “Still/Born” insists on complicating its simplicity.  It’s as though someone took final cut out of the oven early and shrugged, “good enough for government work.”

“Still/Born’s” choppiness doesn’t nag overmuch because a brisk 84-minute runtime keeps rhythm rolling.  Mattering more in this case are the ends not the means.  Even when the path isn’t pretty, the destination delivers dread.  And what the movie has going for it in the traditional terror department is more intriguing than mulling what it misses in invention.

Dismiss how “been there, done that” it feels on the surface.  “Still/Born” is ferociously frightful where it counts, making for a movie worth a late night watch, particularly if imprinting nightmarish visions on the inside of your eyelids is on the bedtime agenda.

Review Score:  70