Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"It’s an uncomfortable watch, as we stay close to its troubled central character. The challenge to viewers is to see what she’s missing." | Photo: Frightfest

Adam O’Brien’s claustrophobic domestic thriller, which screened as part of Glasgow Frightfest 2024, begins with a woman and her husband moving into a new home – or does it? Time here is cyclical in a film centred on trauma, reflecting the way that a traumatised mind can keep reeling around the same problem, analysing and re-analysing it in the vain search for a solution. It’s an uncomfortable watch, as we stay close to its troubled central character. The challenge to viewers is to see what she’s missing.

Arguably, one of the jobs of horror cinema is to take on those issues which, though important, are just too unpleasant for most of society to be willing to deal with. “You were never meant to be a mother,” Meredith (Emily Hampshire) is told in the course of this story. The familiar old accusations are there – the suggestion that she’s failed as a woman because she lacks ‘maternal instinct’. The trouble is that maternal instinct can takes lots of different forms, and there’s a lot of room in there for destruction.

Copy picture

Following in the wake of films like Still/Born, Isabelle and The Kindred, O’Brien’s work treads an uncertain line between the real and the hallucinatory, but ultimately uses its genre trappings to reframe the unbearable ordinary. Like many new mothers, Meredith is exhausted and overwhelmed, going through the motions with less and less awareness of her own body. The new home, with its lack of familiar comforts and its unfamiliar shadows, doesn’t help. The smoke alarm screeches. Somewhere, water is dripping. The walls have a ferocious blankness about them. The baby is endlessly demanding and her husband Jared (François Arnaud), whilst he can talk the talk, plainly doesn’t comprehend her situation in the least.

In fact, Jared is worried about her, and about the baby. He’s afraid that she’s neglecting him, focusing instead on an imaginary older version (played by Christian Convery, who is best know for bringing unexpected heart to Cocaine Bear). Why would a mother spend so much time imagining what her son might look like after he’s had a few years to grow up? it probably won’t take you long to solve that mystery – not when you see the other, darker figure lurking in the house – but anticipating what is to come won’t make things any easier.

What holds the whole thing together is Hampshire’s multi-layered, wounded performance, which makes Meredith repellant at times, as mental illness sometimes can, but will nevertheless make you feel for her and share her desperate hope that, somehow, things will be alright. She’s a classic horror heroine in that we know she’ll never give up – but sometimes, that’s the most tragic thing of all.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2024
Share this with others on...
Mom packshot
A young mother struggles to cope alone in a new home.

Director: Adam O’Brien

Writer: Philip Kalin-Hajdu, Albert I Melamed, Adam O'Brien

Starring: Emily Hampshire, François Arnaud, Christian Convery

Year: 2024

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US, Canada


Glasgow 2024

Search database: