STILL/BORN Movie Review
Written by Simret Cheema-Innis
Released by Digital Interference Productions and Hadron Films
Directed by Brandon Christensen
Written by Brandon Christensen and Colin Minihan
2017, 87 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Christie Burke as Mary
Jesse Moss as Jack
Rebecca Olson as Rachel
If you think being a new mom is terrifying, try being a mum with a baby battling an unknown demonic entity.
When parents Mary and Jack return home with one baby less from the twins they were expecting to have, the couple try to settle into their new home in a leafy idyllic suburb.
Jack has become a partner at the law firm he works for, and Mary chooses to be a stay at home mum. Life couldn’t be more perfect for the young couple with the large new country-file house, decked out with new furnishings, the latest baby technology and the comfort of financial security, something they never had before. But although all seems like a scene out of the Stepford Wives, something dark festers beneath with Mary still desperately grieving for the son she lost and the loneliness that comes with being a good wife in an unfamiliar territory. It doesn’t take long for the house to become a magnet for nefarious goings-on, as Mary begins to sense that she’s not alone, and baby Adam also seems to be affected by a mysterious force.
With the additional stress of motherhood and Adam’s regularly disturbed sleep, Jack begins to fear for Mary’s mental well-being especially after the loss of their other son. She’s quickly diagnosed with post-partum depression and medicated to manage the stress. But things take a turn for the worse when poltergeist activity intensifies and she discovers that perhaps PPD isn’t the only apparition in the house.
Still/Born starts off as a classic haunted house horror with stunning sweeping lake shots which capture an idealised impression of a new family; the children, fiscal solvency and the big house, pretty much everything that is aspired to by the majority of civilisation (if not forced upon) which then is ripped apart by an uncontrollable spiral of terrible events. It’s as if director Brandon Christensen is making a point out of this, that the stresses of materialism have the ability to decimate humanity, the notion of keeping up with the Joneses, and the status and wealth that can come at a grave cost.
In fact, the pressure alone splits the family apart, there’s no time for the couple, Mary is thrown into a false sense of security in a big new house which she begins to question and eventually despise. This is the real horror of the film, the loneliness of motherhood, buried beneath layers of regret and joy when making a life changing decision to become parents. The ignorance of man, when Jack, Mary’s husband goes out to make the money and yet leaves his ill-suffering wife at home because he has the responsibility of being the provider, the man of the house.
There are many pitfalls in this film, but perhaps these are there for a reason. For example, how many incidents have to happen before you decide not to leave your new born baby in a room alone? Not a question, but more a statement which perhaps highlights the parental methods of a wealthy new-generation where babies have their own rooms at least one minute away from the parents' bedroom. This sort of living offers ample time and opportunity for some dark force to wrestle control of your infant's soul, even with your latest, top of the line video baby monitor.
Still/Born has some incredibly terrifying moments at the beginning which are reminiscent of haunted-movie classics like Burnt Offerings, The Entity, Poltergeist, House and The Innocents.
But by the time we approach the middle, the film transforms and becomes less of a classical horror affair, and more of a franchise-hungry performance. It’s as if the director changed halfway through the movie, the style even changes, the music becomes less classical, replaced by '90s low budget Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Grimm sound compositions. The charm is lost, the battle of throwing in what’s familiar in today’s quick-fix horror is exposed, characters of the film deteriorate and become noticeably two-dimensional with their objectives questioned and clouded by the final direction of the narrative.
It becomes increasingly difficult to feel compassion towards parents Jack and Mary with their unsettling behaviour which reveals that the real victim in the film is baby Adam.
Still/Born is affecting in one way, it leaves you with a realistic overview of what being a new parent can be like for some. It’s hard work and bloody scary.