Still/Born Summary and Review

Mary: Christie Burke

Jack: Jesse Mosse

Rachel: Rebecca Olson

Tim: Sean Rogerson

Dr Neilson: Michale Ironside

Director: Brandon Christensen

Release: 2017

It has to be said that I avoided this film for a while as, when it first came to my notice, a handful of reviews didn’t rate it very highly. But after being impressed by "Z" and "Superhost", also directed by Brandon Christensen, I made it my business to take a look and was glad that I did.

Still/Born opens with Mary (Christie Burke) giving birth to twin boys, with her husband, Jack (Jesse Moss), in attendance. Sadly, one dies so Mary and Jack return to their new home with their surviving son, Adam, and try to rebuild their lives. Mary is not only grief-stricken but struggles with parenthood and feels like a failure as a mother.

She goes through the motions as she tries to come to terms with her loss and suffers sleepless nights while she struggles to meet the demands of a new baby. It’s not long before Mary starts to experience eerie visions and her suspicions grow that something is determined to take her child from her. She is not convinced that what she is experiencing is related to postnatal depression, as diagnosed by her psychiatrist (Michael Ironside). She sets out to investigate and discover more about what is haunting her and her child and, more to the point, what she can do about it. 

From the unexpectedly emotional opening scene to the dread-inducing last, Still/Born is a masterclass in suspense-building within a deeply unsettling storyline. Christensen taps into parental fears and anxieties (whether you are a parent or not) and exploits the terror of losing a child coupled with the desire to protect them at all costs. He pulls the emotions hither and thither with no let-up until the bitter end.

He wrings everything out of the talented Christie Burke who displays a range of emotions that will have you either scared for, or scared of, Mary and her intentions. There were moments of wild-eyed madness which verged on parody. However, her trauma and fragile mental state are cleverly woven into the fabric of the horror elements so that the viewer, who might be expected to know things that the characters don't, also doesn't know what is and isn’t real. The tension is broken with unexpectedly touching and light-hearted moments, reminding you that we are witnessing the unravelling of a desperate, grief-stricken woman and I felt that Christensen handled this with sensitivity, which isn’t something I thought I would ever say about a horror film. 

Visually, Still/Born is superb. Scenes are meticulously planned and nothing is left to chance with lighting or scene composition. The colouring subtly changes as the mood does and the score is equally well planned and used sparingly to great effect. The production design set up jump scares that had me gasping. Even when I was expecting it, I was often surprised by what I saw.

There are some minor criticisms. Mary suddenly adopts a 1950s housewife persona, and while there was some logic for this, it came completely out of the blue and felt incompatible with the narrative. Most obviously, even when Mary knows that Adam is in danger, mother and child sleep in different rooms. Baffling, but there is also some cinematic logic for this, providing opportunities for more spooky scenes. I could give a couple of other examples but I don’t want to be hyper-critical as the overall quality of the production nullified these minor annoyances and didn’t detract from a pulsating experience.

There are themes and plot devices in Still/Born that are not new but it's Christensen's execution and his mastery of the jump scare that makes his work so watchable (watch "Z" for other examples - Z review here). By the closing credits, I felt emotionally frayed but this is my kind of film, one that makes me feel something, aside from unbridled fear. I thoroughly enjoyed this outing and I very much look forward to future productions.



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