Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Viewers will, of course, start with the assumption that Z is somehow real, yer Christensen still manages to create uncertainty."

Bursting onto the scene in 2017 with the powerful horror drama Still/Born, Brandon Christensen immediately stood as an impressive new genre talent, particularly skilled in exploring that difficult, haunting space between the supernatural and the imaginary. He returns to similar material in this, his second feature, which also centres on the relationship between a troubled mother and her son. It's a film that will be particularly unsettling for parents, but it delivers some effective chills for everyone.

Josh (Jett Klyne) is eight when he begins interacting with an invisible friend, the titular Z (Luke Moore). At first parents Beth (Keegan Connor Tracy) and Kevin (Sean Rogerson) think it's cute, but following a series of disturbing incidents the former comes to suspect that something more serious is going on. The family visit a psychiatrist (Stephen McHattie) who assures them that nothing unusual is going on and yet, unseen by them, flinches when he hears Z's name. Then Beth thinks she sees something.

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Viewers will, of course, start with the assumption that Z is somehow real, yer Christensen still manages to create uncertainty. On medication, Josh seems to improve. Beth, meanwhile, displays signs of what might be an underlying mental health problem of her own. Tracy is wonderful in the role, making us root for this woman yet simultaneously worry about what she might be capable of - even if Z is real. There are echoes of Still/Born here and plot elements that will remind horror fans of Insidious, but this is a performance that stands on its own, anchoring a deeply uncomfortable film. Underscoring it all is that awful despair that hits troubled parents when they realise they might just not have the capacity to be what their children need.

Christensen punctuates this psychological horror with moments of violence that shock not because of what we see but because of what they are, reaching past viewers' desensitisation by focusing on things that could happen to anyone, in the real world, and making them happen to characters who are sufficiently well realised that we can easily relate to them. Particularly impressive is the way that he explores the dynamics of abuse and the way that acute horror can give way to submission, to a sense that it's simply impossible to fight. there's a lot going on here beyond what you might expect from the premise.

Christensen also proves adept at understanding children's behaviour, getting natural performances from his child stars and representing their ways of connecting to others in a way that reminds us how vulnerable they are to being led astray - perhaps even by their own imaginations.

This isn't a film that relies on blood and gore. It does feature the occasional jump scare, but relies much more heavily on a sense of creeping dread. For these characters, there is no easy way out. That dread will stay with you, so hug your children tightly and let them know that their invisible friends are only welcome to stay over if they behave.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2020
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A family is terrorised by an eight-year-old boy's imaginary friend.
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Director: Brandon Christensen

Writer: Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan

Starring: Keegan Connor Tracy, Jett Klyne, Sean Rogerson, Sara Canning

Year: 2019

Runtime: 83 minutes

Country: Canada


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