Directed by Brandon Christensen. Starring Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson, Michael Ironside, Sean Rogerson. Canada 2017 86 mins Certificate: 15
Out on August 20th 2018 on DVD and Digital from Matchbox Films
Brandon Christensen’s feature debut, co-written with Colin Minihan (best known for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS and the wonderful IT STAINS THE SANDS RED), employs a number of familiar genre tropes and narrative turns throughout STILL/BORN. The story itself hinges around one of modern horror’s biggest recurring themes: the is-it-all-in-her-head? paranoia of a woman who is about to give birth or has just given birth. This is the fruitful terror territory for everything from ROSEMARY’S BABY to INSIDE – a virtual sub-genre in itself, with the baby monitor a regular source of paranormal wig-outs and the paedophobic undertones of THE OMEN transplanted to an authentic contemporary milieu in WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN (the latter still, arguably, one of the great horror films of our time).
It may not be innovative in theme or execution, but this Canadian chiller is extremely well crafted, genuinely scary and impressively acted. Christie Burke is excellent as the troubled new mother facing the devastating news that one of the twins she was carrying was stillborn. She and husband Jesse Moss relocate to a big yellow suburban house, but her adjustment to motherhood is not good: there are breast-feeding set-backs and disquieting developments, including an unexplained bruise on the baby’s leg. Events escalate to a disturbing presence on the baby video monitor (a terrific scare), and an ominous baby cry coming from the second crib that they haven’t yet been able to bring themselves to ditch. Michael Ironside, whose welcome latter-day cameo cycle included a memorable bit in Minahan’s EXTRATERRESTRIAL, is a sympathetic shrink in a solid supporting cast.
Here, the apparently supernatural events to which the audience is witness becomes a pervasive concern over the heroine’s psychological wellbeing. The decision of her nervous husband to install CCTV cameras all around the house is de rigeuer in the 21st century genre world, while a key set piece is set during a big old-fashioned melodramatic thunderstorm, and there is the expected sequence of the heroine Googling “Something is trying to take my baby”. The figure of fear at the core of the story moves in that familiar 21st century jerky fashion beloved of malevolent baby-snatching figures.
“It’s your baby or somebody else’s…” Although we do get a glimpse of the grinning visage of the sacrifice-demanding antagonist, STILL/BORN is smart enough to sustain ambiguity about the heroine’s state of mind and throw doubt upon the physical manifestations of evil. Either way, Burke is sympathetic and convincing, the story grips and the frights are highly effective, building to a climax at a Halloween costume party and a suitably creepy ending that doesn’t cop out. It’s a very commercial picture destined for a successful life on disc and streaming services thanks to the positive festival buzz surrounding it for the last year. It also incorporates an unusual plug for GRAVE ENCOUNTERS – a pirated CAM copy of it on the protagonist’s desktop!
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