Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Christie Burke and Grace Christensen in Still/Born
"Burke's performance would be riveting even on an empty sound stage."

Few of us will ever go through anything worse in life than the loss of a child. Opening a horror film with this is a brave thing to do - it makes it very hard to create any escalating sense of peril. But Mary (Christie Burke) faces a more complex situation. Not only has she lost little Thomas to stillbirth, she's just become mother to his twin, Adam. For Adam's sake, she must face down her grief and try to get on with life. But Mary can't shake the terrible fear that something took Thomas, and that it's coming for Adam too.

Structurally, Still/Born is very simple and by-the-book. It packs in familiar tropes: family threatened by the supernatural; woman whom nobody will believe; husband who loses his patience, etc. But it doesn't need to be complicated, because Burke's performance would be riveting even on an empty sound stage. The weight of Mary's grief is tangible in everything she does, even when she's successfully reintegrating with the world, socialising with her neighbour and enjoying romantic moments with a husband who clearly still loves her to bits. Her little twitches and glances are every bit as telling as the late night panic attacks. And the figure she thinks she sees in Adam's room? Is she stressed enough to be hallucinating? Is she sane enough to accept that possibility?

Copy picture

One of the best things about the internet age is that sources of support and reassurance are available for people facing all sorts of challenges in life. This can be problematic, however, when it comes to mental illness, with conditions involving delusion sometimes harder to resolve when people are able to reinforce their delusions by finding others who share them. Writer/director Brandon Christensen carefully steers his film along an uncertain path as Mary goes looking for help. Do the clues she is uncovering really point to something monstrous threatening her child, or is she getting dangerous reinforcement for a form of postpartum depression, exacerbated by grief, that could make her dangerous to him?

Exploring the world with Mary, rediscovering it from a different perspective, Christensen employs a light touch but shows us the way her eyes linger on her neighbour's baby. Is she envying that simpler life, looking for a role model, experiencing an urge to replace the missing Thomas, or something worse? Is she simply shaken by her new awareness of the vulnerability of all infants? In Adam's room, shadows dance. One can't help but wonder that she doesn't simply take him to sleep in her room - and then wonder if that would be a good idea.

Still/Born gives Burke full rein and reaps the rewards. For anyone who has experienced similar loss - and for new parents likewise - it is very hard to watch. It calls to the strongest human impulses to attribute blame, to find a monster to explain the inexplicable. Whatever is going on, it doesn't look good for Adam, and the familiar rhythms of the film, like those of all good fables, promise long nights of uneasy sleep.

Reviewed on: 29 Aug 2017
Share this with others on...
For Mary, the joy of her son Adam’s birth is overshadowed by the stillborn death of his twin brother. Now she can't shake the feeling that something is coming for Adam too.

Director: Brandon Christensen

Writer: Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan

Starring: Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson, Michael Ironside, Jenn Griffin

Year: 2017

Runtime: 87 minutes

Country: Canada

Search database: