Make no mistake, if you are pregnant or recently gave birth, you may want to avoid Still/Born until your child is old enough to leave its crib.
Still/Born, the debut feature from Brandon Christensen, co-written with Colin Minihan (Grave Encounters, It Stains the Sands Red), is a relentless thrill ride that does a marvelous job defying viewer expectations at every turn.
Christensen’s film opens with a riveting, silent montage that places you squarely in the delivery room as Mary (Christie Burke) and Jack (Jesse Moss) prepare to welcome twin sons. As Mary pushes and screams, the first baby arrives with the second not far behind, but it’s immediately clear that something just isn’t right.
Christensen quickly moves to an immaculately manicured neighborhood where inside Mary and Jack’s spacious new home is a carefully constructed nursery with two visible cribs, but only one is occupied. Above each crib is a child’s name, hanging as string art.
Jack’s an attorney, and it’s clear that while neither he nor Mary came from money, they are enjoying the fruits of his hard work. But inside the house, all is not well. Mary is overly fussy with her newborn son, and neither she nor her husband speaks about the empty crib.
Despite playing off familiar themes, Christensen’s set-up feels organic and new. The maternal terror of post-partum depression is palpable. Mary begins to experience waking hallucinations and vivid night terrors. She hears two district voices crying through the baby monitor. She wakes to discover on the monitor’s video feed what looks like a shadowy figure looming over her son’s crib.
Jack tries to be supportive, but it’s clear he doesn’t fully understand what Mary is going through. He makes her an appointment to see a psychiatrist (genre icon Michael Ironside), who privately implores Mary to confide in him if she is having visions. Mary quietly says no.
Still/Born slowly ratchets the tension, deftly weaving in found-footage from the baby monitor’s video feed while hinting at something truly sinister that has taken a deep interest in Mary and her surviving child. With equal measures of both practical and digital effects, Still/Born slowly unspools to reveal that a demonic entity might be trying to steal Mary and Jack’s child.
What distinguishes Still/Born from the scores of horror films that have dealt with similar circumstances is twofold: Burke is magnetic as Mary, delivering a performance that seamlessly shifts from a new mother's anxiety to recurring psychotic breaks from reality. And Christensen and Minihan wisely avoid offering any direct clues to help viewers discern whether she’s actually fighting for her baby’s soul, or she’s just bat-shit bonkers.
In one riveting sequence, Mary goes to give her baby a bath, but is suddenly, inexplicably locked out from the bathroom while the child is left alone in the tub with the water rising. Mary eventually smashes through the door using an axe that she takes from a construction vehicle parked in her neighborhood. But when the surveillance feed from cameras that Jack eventually places throughout their home is reviewed, the footage shows something altogether different unfolding.
As Still/Born roars into its breakneck third act, Christensen switches perspective to allow viewers to see each of the main characters in a different light. Then he flips the script, once again toggling between two possible scenarios, Mary’s either completely mad or she’s a fierce mother bear willing to stare down a demon straight from Hell’s bowels, regardless of her own safety.
It’s only in the final, closing frames that Christensen provides anything remotely resembling a definitive answer, and even then, Still/Born still manages to conclude with a subjective gut punch that’s wholly open for interpretation.
Christensen laughingly explained his intention to BVB this way: “It’s definitely kind of a fuck-you ending, which I think a lot of the time works great in horror, at least to keep people talking afterward.”
Still/Born has limited release in Tampa at the AMC Veterans, and is now available to rent or buy on most streaming, Video-on-Demand platforms. BVB highly recommends you seek it out.
4 out of 5 stars.
R. 87 minutes
Directed by Brandon Christensen.
Starring Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson and Michael Ironside.
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