'Still/Born': Film Review

As if parenthood wasn't scary enough.

A mother fears that a demon is attempting to steal her newborn baby in Brandon Christensen's horror film.

New mothers have plenty to endure already before the terrors imposed on the central character in Brandon Christensen's horror film. Tapping into elemental motherhood fears, not to mention the specter of post-partum depression, Still/Born works most effectively in its subtler, more enigmatic moments than when it indulges in familiar horror film conventions. Nevertheless, it does offer a consistent level of tension, a few decent scares and a terrific lead turn by Christie Burke.

The story revolves around Mary (Burke), who in the opening scene gives birth to two twins, only one of whom survives. Her husband Jack (Jessie Moss) proves endlessly supportive, but Mary's inability to get past her grief is signified by her refusing her husband's gentle suggestion that they remove the empty second crib in the baby's bedroom.

Horror fans won't have much trouble guessing what comes next. Mary begins hearing strange, terrifying noises emanating from the baby monitor, indicating that the infant isn't alone in the room. She soon starts to experience visual hallucinations as well; at first abstract shapes, and ultimately a demonic figure. When Jack takes her to see a shrink (played by genre veteran Michael Ironside, in a case of the filmmaker tipping his hand), the doctor pointedly asks her if she's experiencing hallucinations and she just as pointedly answers in the negative.

By the time Mary googles the statement, "Something is trying to take my baby," it's become obvious that she's unraveling. Her internet search leads her to a woman who went through similar experiences that didn't end happily. The stranger, pointing to a drawing of a demon in a book, informs Mary, "That's the bitch who's trying to steal your baby." (It's an effective line, to be sure, even if it feels too consciously crafted for the film's trailer.)

As might be expected, all hell eventually breaks loose, with the female demon finally making a full-on appearance. Like so many creatures in horror films, she displays the sort of painful-looking, herky-jerky movement that seems to indicate that Hell is in desperate need of a chiropractor.

Co-written by the director and Colin Minihan, the screenplay feels oddly disjointed at times, such as when Mary's psychosis briefly turns her into what seems to be a Stepford Wife. That is, until she screams an obscenity at her baby who seems to sense that it might be a good time to stop crying. While it's understandable that the filmmakers would want to leave viewers in confusion over whether the phenomena Mary is experiencing are real or imagined, they take it to an annoying extreme.

Still/Born generally succeeds in its goals to the extent that any parents who sees it will likely regard baby monitors with a whole new level of fear. Not to mention video home surveillance, although one would have thought that the Paranormal Activity movies would have taken care of that already. Besides Burke's compelling performance as the terrified mother, the pic includes solid supporting turns by Rebecca Olson as a comely neighbor and veteran Canadian actress Sheila McCarthy (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing) as Mary's less than supportive mother.

Production companies: Digital Interference, Hadron Films
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson, Michael Ironside, Sheila McCarthy
Director: Brandon Christensen
Screenwriters: Brandon Christensen, Colin Minihan
Producers: Chris Ball, Kurtis David Harder, Colin Minihan
Executive producers: Miles Forster, Chris Wilkinson
Director of photography: Bradley Stuckel
Production designer: Mike Kasper
Composer: Blitz//Berlin
Costume designer: Blanka Szabo
Casting: Tiffany Mak

Rated R, 87 minutes