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IFI Horrorthon 2017 Review - STILL/BORN

still/born review
A young mother fears a supernatural force is attempting to steal her baby.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brandon Christensen

Starring: Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson, Jenn Griffin

still/born poster


Pregnancy is the most natural thing in the world. It's also pretty damn weird when you think about it; a tiny living creature growing inside your stomach - it's the stuff of Cronenberg! No surprise then that the horror genre has mined pregnancy and its myriad terrors over the decades. 1968's Rosemary's Baby is the Grand-Mommy of the genre, with Mia Farrow carrying a child that bears its "Father's eyes". Earlier this year we watched Alice Lowe driven to murder by the imagined voice of her malevolent sprog in UK indie Prevenge.

still/born

The most common narrative in the pregnancy horror sub-genre preys on a mother's fear that someone, or something, is out to take her child. We've seen this explored in the likes of 2007's French extremity staple Inside, the 2014 found footage thriller Devil's Due, and even the 1989 franchise entry A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child.

For his feature debut, Still/Born, director Brandon Christensen continues this trend. His protagonist, Mary (Christie Burke), is celebrating the birth of a healthy baby boy, Adam, while mourning the loss of his twin, who was sadly stillborn. While devoting all her love to Adam, Mary is haunted by the presence of a second empty crib in the nursery, but despite the protestations of hubby Jack (Jesse Moss), she refuses to dismantle it until her therapist (Michael Ironside) convinces her it's the reason behind the nightmarish hallucinations she's suffering.

still/born

After taking down the unused crib, Mary's visions don't just continue, they become all the more lucid, and she becomes convinced an unnatural force has set its sights on taking Adam from her. With Jack putting it down to post-natal depression and demanding she take her meds, Mary decides to investigate herself, and after some googling, learns that she may be the latest target of an ancient female demon, notorious for taking new-borns. With everyone writing her off as crazy, Mary must fight to save her surviving child.

In terms of plot points, there's little in Still/Born that we haven't seen before, but while its thrills and drama may be generic, it executes them with confidence. Christensen's film has the flat look of a Lifetime original, which initially caused me to lower my expectations, but as the story progresses the absence of stylistic quirks becomes its strength, as it narrows our focus onto the core of the story.

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Still/Born has something of an old-fashioned feel about it, and if you digitally edited out the presence of laptops and cellphones, it could easily pass for some lost ABC movie of the week from the '70s. Special effects are kept to a minimum, the film instead relying on the central performance of Burke to carry the scares. Present in every scene, Burke really is excellent here in a role that requires her to go from straightforward protagonist to semi-antagonist as Mary's determination to protect her own child begins to place those around her in danger. Mary is ultimately a tragic figure, and thanks to Burke's melancholy performance, we become wrapped up in her plight, understanding her actions if not condoning them.

Viewers weaned on the FX heavy, cattle-prod bluntness of The Conjuring and its ilk may find Still/Born too quaint and dated to have an effect, but for those of us who appreciate a more nuanced approach to screen scare-mongering, Christensen has subtly fashioned a successful new entry in the growing post-natal panic genre.



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