[REVIEW] STILL/BORN Brings the Fear of Parenthood to Life

For many, being or becoming a parent can be scary. For the young couple in Still/Born, parenthood is downright terrifying. Still/Born, the directorial debut from talented writer/director Brandon Christensen, is a wickedly fun horror romp with blood-pumping scares and shockingly smooth production. The film follows a couple trying to raise their newborn child after experiencing a tragedy, while trying to fend off sinister forces. More specifically, the synopsis on the official Facebook page states:

Still/Born follows Mary, a new mother who lost one of her twins in childbirth. As she struggles with the loss of one of her children, she starts to suspect something sinister is after her surviving child – a supernatural entity that has chosen her child and will stop at nothing to take it from her.

   

On the surface, the film seems like a straight-forward supernatural-horror. But when you start to peel back the layers, the film has a lot more to offer than around-the-corner jump scares. Don’t worry, there are still plenty of those and they are good, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Co-written by genre film Titan Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, It Stains the Sands Red), Still/Born is one of the scariest and unique films you’re going to see all year.

 

The film comes out of the gate guns blazing, as we watch Mary giving birth to her children in the very first scene and something is obviously wrong, telegraphed by the reactions from Mary and Jack (played by Christie Burke and Jesse Moss, respectively). It’s not a spoiler as the film has used this opening scene as a trailer and it’s the perfect scene to do so, setting the tone for what’s to come in the first few minutes. It shows that the film isn’t just going to be telling a demonic ghost story, that there are real dangers in this movie as well.

After losing one baby, Mary is on edge and keen not to lose another one. As the young couple settles in to being parents, so do the frustrations that lead to dark thoughts from Mary. While on the subject of Mary, I have to give a lot of credit to Christie Burke. She was asked to do a lot and most the film hinges on her absolutely fantastic performance, evident by her convincing facial expressions in the opening scene and the rest of the film. She carries the film emotionally and Still/Born does an amazing job putting you in this house with Mary. There’s also a realness to seeing new parents struggling with their new roles. So many films will show how excited the mom is to be a parent, but we rarely see the paranoia of making a mistake or in Mary’s case, of something out to get her baby. Speaking of the couple, though Burke’s Mary is undoubtedly the star, Jesse Moss’ Jack might be one of my new favorite horror husbands and deserves a shoutout.

Another thing that makes this film so fun and immersive is the setting. A haunted house flick is only as good as its setting, and a good portion of the film is set in the couple’s residence. The film takes place in a fairly large, but standard suburban house. The film’s smooth cinematography does a great job at presenting the home, focusing on the layout of its rooms and foreshadowing scary moments to come. And with Mary spending most her time in the house, you really feel the cabin fever she is also experiencing. (A little fun fact for the film: the movie was shot primarily in Brandon Christensen’s parents’ house.)

I really love how good of a job this film does setting up the atmosphere of the film, from the house to the film’s hauntingly beautiful score by Blitz//Berlin. The music is a springboard for moments in the film, as certain motions and scares are timed to the music perfectly. This brings me to my next point: the scares. The scares in this film are not only expertly crafted, but we get a variety of them as well. People often criticize jump-scares, but when uses them so effectively. But there is also a wide variety to the scares. I’ve mentioned the house and the music, which contribute to the atmospheric scares of the film. Though the house is big, you still feel a bit claustrophobic never leaving the house.

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Getting so wrapped up in the production and real life horror, I sometimes forget about the supernatural element to the film. In the film, Mary believes this evil entity is out to steal her baby. Part of the film is first distinguishing if the entity is even real or if Mary is just spiraling due to her postpartum depression. The film does a great job balancing the supernatural elements with the human ones, but do think the latter is executed cleaner and in a more compelling fashion. Our monster has some solid make-up/practical effects but the mythology left a bit more to be desired. I will give our baby-stealing perp some credit for her creativity, who know you could scare someone so many different ways using a baby monitor?

I don’t want to give away too many of the scares or supernatural elements, so I will touch base on the psychological element of the film. Postpartum depression is a real thing and something that’s never really been explored in too many horror films. While other films wants to dazzle you with their over-the-too moments, Still/Born succeeds on its subtlety just as much as the jump scares, if not more. Though the demon is scary, Mary’s descent into madness is even scarier, as she increasingly becomes more dangerous. The film sneakily does a bate-and-switch with our protagonist and pulls it off masterfully, which makes for an emotionally impactful third act.

From start to finish, Still/Born is an absolute thrill ride. Yes, there are some deeper themes at play but this is a fun horror movie. Ever since seeing it premiere at The Overlook Film Festival, where it took home the award for Scariest Film, I’ve been itching to revisit it. Christensen was out to create an experience and with the superb production design, it’s a film that begs to be viewed on the big screen and as loud as possible (limited screenings are going on now, check your listings!). This film has it all from heartwarming moments to heart-stopping scares, a balance you wouldn’t expect from a first-time director. I was so impressed that I just had to sit down with Christensen for an interview, so be on the look out for an NOFS exclusive.

I think the quality of this film is a testament to vast amount of talent the horror genre has to offer right now. Whether it be bringing in a band versus a composer for the score or the young duo penning the script . It’s also a very accessible horror film, mixing the supernatural with a real-life horror that a lot of people can relate to: parenthood. Last but not least, the film has insane re-watchability (I’ve seen it 4 times already). Brandon Christensen has a bright future ahead of him, crafting an eerie thriller with a top-notch leading performance from Christie Burke. In this recent horror renaissance, Still/Born is a gem you don’t want to miss. The film is available on VOD and will be headed to Shudder soon!

3.5/4 Eberts

 

Still/Born is now playing in select theatres and VOD platforms as of February 9th, 2018.

 

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DeVaughn Taylor

DeVaughn here, or Deezus as mortals online know me, and I'm a writer/comedian and host of the Deezus Take the Reel podcast. I enjoy large volumes of coffee, oversharing on Twitter, and black clothing. Favorite horror movies include American Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Candyman. Hit me up on Twitter, bites are rarely fatal.