Still/Born [Review by SpecialK]
Carefully-groomed hedges, grates within gates within grids, and tiny, comfy plots to live out the rest of eternity. If you’re picturing a cemetery, that would be a fair guess, given that director Brandon Christensen artfully paints the suburbs with a beige-infused palette of endless, terrifying monotony in Still/Born.
In the film, Mary and Jack give birth to twins, although only Adam survives while his sibling is stillborn. Since Jack just made partner at his firm, work keeps him busy while his wife spends quiet days alone with her new son, battling traumatizing hallucinations of the baby she couldn’t bring home. As if this weren’t enough, she starts to sense someone is hovering over Adam, poised to snatch him up when she’s not looking. The worst part? She’s the only one who seems to notice, and people think she’s crazy when she explains her concern. The lines between demon and dream, hallucination and depression, and paranormal and psychosis blur as Mary scrambles to save her son.
At its core, Still/Born is a solid horror film. Christensen lures us into the muted, sterile comfort of a McMansion, and just when our eyes glaze over during yet another scene of Mary folding gray laundry in a gray room, we are thrown out of our seats by a mile-high jump scare, followed by a soundtrack of eerily sliding bass strings. Christensen effectively relies on steadfast modern techniques, like Paranormal Activity-style hauntings caught by security cameras, The Conjuring-like demonic audio recordings, and a villain straight out of The Witch. But he also relies on tried-and-true methods like Hitchcockian dolly zooms and, of course, a good old-fashioned thunderstorm. Still/Born is one of those rare horror films where you realize early on you’re in good hands, so you can just sit back and enjoy the scares.
But the film also tackles something beyond praiseworthy horror. For one, there’s the obvious biblical references (Mary the mother, Adam the first-born son, a tempting neighbor-in-red named Rachel who Mary fears is angling for second wife status—I mean the analyses write themselves). But Christensen also walks us through the terrors of being a new mom, and even tackles a new brand of feminist commentary more effectively and terrifyingly than some recent attempts. Yes—gasp—even better than some women have. With layered images of grates and cages and an opening scene of a screaming but silenced woman in the throes of labor, Still/Born draws on one of the deepest fears scaring mommies these days—a mother losing her identity in her child’s. Coupled with a bland movie set straight out of L.L. Pottery Pier Shack & Co.’s latest catalog, and demons and time lapses only we and the protagonist seem to notice, Christensen weaves together an effective cautionary tale for all new suburban moms, and a fairly convincing PSA on postpartum mental health care.
The film wasn’t without fault. In truth, it probably could have done just as well as a short film or play, leaving it feeling a bit drawn out in this full-length format. And let’s be honest, did we really need another hysterical, delusional new mom character, especially in the age of Goodnight Mommy, Devil’s Due and of course, Mama? Well I guess if you’re going for full-on cliché, at least do it right, and there I can’t fault Christensen.
SpecialK Verdict: For a straight-to-DVD release, Still/Born hits the spot with a mesmerizing and frightening portrait of the banality of the ‘burbs, the pure uncertain terror of being responsible for a helpless human being, and the madness of losing trust in your own sanity. Although I can’t in good conscience recommend this one to all you new moms out there, the rest of you horror fiends should definitely give this one a shot.
Still/Born was released for rent on Friday, February 9.