Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fantasporto '18: Still/Born

It’s not the dingoes. It’s a hag demon that is out to steal Mary’s baby. That’s assuming it really isn’t postpartum depression, like everyone around her so unhelpfully assumes. Whatever the case might be, infant Adam is definitely in jeopardy throughout Brandon Christensen’s Still/Born (trailer here), which screens at this year's Fantasporto.

Little Adam is already a survivor, considering his twin brother died during child birth. Mary and Jack are feeling some dramatically mixed emotions, but they try to focus on what they have. Soon after returning home, Mary starts seeing flashes out of the corner of her eye. She tries to explain them away, but the incidents quickly escalate. Before long, she is desperately trying to thwart the entity’s murderous schemes. Of course, all she gets from her doctor are anti-depressants. To be fair, Jack is reasonably supportive for a reasonable period of time, ill-timed business trips notwithstanding, but the demon has a knack for framing up Mary good.

Miscarriages and stillbirths are awfully painful for couples that suffer them, so exploiting them for a horror movie is a dicey proposition but hey, we don’t use the term “exploitation” for nothing. To their credit, Christensen and co-screenwriter Colin Minihan address such subjects with as much sensitivity as can be mustered in a fright flick. Unfortunately, the actual demonic and/or psychological horror is pretty standard stuff, albeit executed with a little stylish flair. There simply is never a moment in Still/Born that truly surprises us.

It is a shame, because the conventional narrative squanders a fierce and bravely vulnerable performance from Christie Burke as Mary. We truly believe her terror is real, regardless of its true nature. Alas, the film also wastes the great Michael Ironside in a largely inconsequential near-cameo as close-talking Dr. Nielsen. He doesn’t even get to yell at anyone. However, Rebecca Olson makes a strong impression as Mary’s desperate housewife neighbor, Rachel.

While we’re on the subject, why do Rachel and her husband have so many decorative skulls in their home and backyard? Wow, if that’s a thing, it’s sure been a while since we lived in the burbs. In fact, this is a perfect horror film for suburban consumption. It definitely taps into primal parental fears, but it follows a very well-established pattern. Still/Born is not terrible, but it is not good enough to recommend to discriminating horror viewers when it screens at Fantasporto.