Mary, a new mother, gives birth to twins, but only one of them is alive. While taking care of her living child, Adam, she suspects that something, a supernatural entity, has chosen him and will stop at nothing to take him from her.
February 9th, 2018
Written by Colin Minihan (the director behind It Stains the Sands Red and Extraterrestrial) and directed by Brandon Christensen – Still/Born isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely worth a look – namely for the very small, but very strong central cast.
Mary (Christie Burke) and her lawyer husband Jack (Jesse Moss) have just moved into a new, sprawling home, at the same time that Mary has given birth to their first child (ren). Baby Adam was meant to be a twin, but brother Thomas was still-born (hence the title). As they try to get their lives (and new home) in order, Jack is away at work a lot. So Mary must deal with a big house, unpacking, her post-partem depression, her debilitating grief and now – the seeming arrival of some sort of supernatural entity – apparently intent on taking Adam.
The film has clear call-outs to Kubrick’s The Shining, Paranormal Activity and even had tinges of both the Insidious and Sinister franchises.
I was able to firmly place my foot into my mouth in the film’s final moments. From the get-go, I was expecting (based on the film’s synopsis on IMDb) some serious “evil twin” territory to be explored.
While I think that would have been a more interesting and perhaps profound journey (rather than that of an unrelated demon-creature), the film’s very last moment shut me up quick. Indeed, there is some “twin” play and it’s quite shocking, disturbing and powerful… and yes, unexpected.
If only the film had gone more in that direction – it might have felt a little less cookie-cutter. And that is one of the big problems with Still/Born. It just isn’t ground-breaking. Entertaining? Yes? Original? No.
I enjoyed the intimacy of this basically one location film and small cast. I felt like we really got to know these characters; particularly Mary – and the many, many things she’s up against. There’s genuine sympathy for Mary and much of that credit goes to the truly striking lead performance from Christie Burke.
She looks like she could be a younger sibling of Insidious’ Rose Byrne. And she’s got the acting chops to back up this comparison. Immediately, Burke gives us generous insight into Mary’s unbalanced psyche. She’s just lost her baby, and so she’s broken, but then we get the sheer delight she takes in caring for baby Adam.
I’ve always marveled at actors who can produce real tears on cue, and Burke is able to bring the waterworks (a lot!). Mary’s so very delicate and Burke’s wide eyes (at certain moments) tell of the character’s balance upon the precipice. Fierce and dedicated motherhood is always a powerful thing to play for an actress. And armed with a well-written and damaged character, Burke is the big reason to recommend this film.
As Mary’s husband Jack, Jesse Moss (from one of Minihan’s previous outings; Extraterrestrial) is a bit of a throwaway role (the film truly is Mary’s) and naturally Jack is absent a lot of time (he’s the breadwinner). But Moss has a genuine quality when on-screen. I had no trouble believing his handling of baby Adam (helped along by great dialogue with the baby). But Moss’ finest moment comes later in the film, when he and Mary are in the hospital (why? No spoilers here). So much pain, hurt, confusion and love in his eyes… it’s a great scene for Moss.
As sexy neighbor Rachel, Rebecca Olson doesn’t just offer potential temptation for Jack, but she gives the film a bit of comic relief. Rachel is definitely a supporting role, but Olson stands out as one of the film’s highlights – despite her limited screen-time.
And Michael Ironside – that fabulous character actor we’ve all come to know and love. He plays Mary’s psychiatrist and to say that we’re robbed of his presence, is an understatement. What little time he has, he’s fantastic. I’m reminded of another brilliant character actor – Lance Henriksen. They each have that low gravelly voice and screen presence for days. Don’t care what they do (hell, they can read the phone book) and I’ll be enamored.
I also have to offer kudos to Jenn Griffin. She plays a woman named Jane who might have some helpful information for Mary – as Mary investigates what is happening to her and her child. Griffin has but a few moments in the film, but she leaves a very lasting impression. Jane is devastated by what has happened in her past, and Griffin strikingly delivers all of that pain. It’s a remarkable turn and you’ll wish you could see more of this character (if only to see more of Griffin’s work). And she also gets the best line of dialogue (perfectly delivered) in the film – when explaining something important to Mary. Delicious.
As many positive things that I can say about Still/Born – there are far too many missteps to go unnoticed or unmentioned, and these problems kept the film from scoring any higher than it did.
Ever since we were introduced to the villainesses of The Ring and Ju-On, we’ve been bombarded by the same type of ghost/demon/creature – in horror films from across the globe. Stringy, dirty hair: check. Creaky, inhuman movements (helped along by quick-cut editing): check. Seriously, this nemesis type has run its course. Point being, there’s nothing remotely original about the creature which is terrorizing Mary.
I’m reminded of something Madonna says in her documentary Truth or Dare – as she’s trying to talk, but her makeup artist is trying to touch up her lips. She off-handedly tells the makeup artist, “Do something else, do my eyebrows.”
Exactly. Do something else (referencing the horrifically overused “Asian-stringy-haired female demon”).
Other problems involve some credibility in the story. During the film’s climax, something big (naturally) is happening in Mary’s living room. Several neighbors (this is actually a cool image) from a nearby Halloween party are witness to this particular madness. But instead of smashing glass (the doors are locked/blocked), they pound on the glass and cry out for what’s happening, to end. The sequence goes on for several minutes, and from the get-go, I couldn’t get past the fact that no one bothered to simply break the glass – including a character with something big at stake in that living room. A great big “huh?”
And as things progress (Paranormal Activity-style, including cameras set up around the house), Mary continues to put baby Adam down in his crib, in his own room. At some point, would you as a caring and nervous parent simply move the crib into your room or sleep in the room with your newborn child – considering all of the wacky and terrifying things happening around you? Couldn’t buy this and therefore, can’t just brush it under the carpet.
Still/Born isn’t particularly original, but there are some good scares and powerful performances (most notably from Christie Burke in the lead role) to be enjoyed. So while I have some reservations, a 3.5-star rating is still far above average. I say check this one out!
Still/Born is now available on select VOD outlets as well as DVD.