Thursday, February 02, 2023

Baby Ruby: Another Infant Monster (sort of)

For Josephine, the lifestyle influencer, pregnancy is just another way to show off her elegance. However, when her new-born daughter arrives, she will learn the hard way who is the real center of attention. It turns out babies are demanding little crying machines. Schizophrenic post-partum depression gets dressed up as a horror movie in director-screenwriter Bess Wohl’s Baby Ruby, which opens tomorrow in New York.

For “Jo,” pregnancy has been all about smug Instagram posts. However, during childbirth, she feels like her “fetus” is actively trying to hurt her body. The delivery is exhausting, but her first days at home are even more draining. She experiences flashes of paranoia (did her husband Spencer really put Ruby in a boiling pot? Answer: no). Ruby’s constant crying means Jo gets even less sleep than her infant. Spencer and his pushy mother Doris try to be patient, but they just don’t get it. She turns to a local mommy circle for support, but they are weirdly Stepford-ish, including the creepy-friendly Shelly.

In many ways,
Baby Ruby is a perfect example of what is wrong with the horror genre, as it is now being defined. In this case, Wohl is too busy exploring the uncomfortable dark side of motherhood to take care of genre business. Frankly, Baby Ruby is often rather dull, because we are constantly cued to doubt Jo’s perspective.

Post-partum mental issues are a serious topic, but they are not done justice here. The subversive examination of the new motherhood experience, which is clearly the film’s reason for being, is hardly original. Ray Bradbury staked out this territory in his 1946 short story “The Small Assassin,” (nicely adapted in a short film and Bradbury’s own anthology series). Plus, there are numerous films like, you know,
Rosemary’s Baby.

Noemie Merlant gives a ferociously committed performance as Jo, but she is somewhat undermined by Wohl’s inability or unwillingness to preserve any sense of ambiguity. Yet, Jayne Atkinson has a remarkable scene as mother Doris that almost redeems the film. Honestly, a new film should have been built around her confessional sequence and Jo’s big confrontation with Shelly, because they have the visceral electricity the rest of the film lacks.

Alas, the rest of
Baby Ruby is repetitive and predictable. It is a lot like previous films (Grace), but more of a chore to finish. Not recommended, Baby Ruby opens tomorrow (2/3) at the IFC Center.