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John’s Horror Corner: Still/Born (2017), a postpartum horror about a baby-stealing demon.

February 9, 2019

MY CALL: Although certainly not for parents of infants, this was a finely crafted film addressing psychosis, parenthood paranoia, and postpartum demons featuring some jolting scares. MOVIES LIKE Still/Born: For more pregnancy horror, try Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Unborn (1991), The Unborn (2009), Grace (2009), Inside (2016), Inside (2007) and Good Manners (2017; As Boas Maneiras).

Mary (Christie Burke; Ascension, Falling Skies) gives birth to twins: one perfectly healthy, the other stillborn. Despite this tragedy, things at home are good. She has a healthy marriage in which both are lovingly understanding of each other’s shortcomings in the kitchen, a gorgeous house in the suburbs with nice neighbors, and just a little difficulty training baby Adam to breastfeed. But this difficulty is affecting her emotional well-being, she resists removing the extra crib from the nursery, and Mary starts hearing strange things in the baby monitor.

Mary’s husband (Jesse Moss; Tucker and Dale vs Evil, Extraterrestrial, Wolfcop) is supportive but thinks they need some help, her mother (enlisted to help) is a tad judgy, and her neighbor Rachel (Rebecca Olson; Killing Gunther) fuels her insecurities. Mary isn’t just hearing things on the baby monitor, but she suspects her husband’s infidelity and now she’s also seeing things… horrible things. Not surprisingly her family therapist (Michael Ironside; Watchers, Scanner, Prom Night II) diagnoses postpartum depression and prescribes medication. But her visions persist.

After installing cameras throughout the house, Mary dissects footage (more akin to Sinister than Paranormal Activity) and is convinced she sees a figure near over her child. Her own investigations reveal stories of demons (Lamashtu) stealing babies. And so augments her paranoia…

This goes against what I consider to be the more conventional contemporary “baby horror” in which the baby itself is a monster (e.g., It’s Alive, The Night Feeder, Devil’s Due), or the more prenatal “pregnancy horror” approach (e.g., Inside, Rosemary’s Baby)—although it clearly feels more like the latter than the former. And we find some tropes typical of hauntings (e.g., Poltergeist, The Changeling), such as doors slamming themselves, ghostly visages, other-worldly voices and shattering windows.

For his first feature film, director Brandon Christensen makes another fine contribution to Shudder exclusives (along with Terrified and Satan’s Slaves). The movie boasts gorgeous suburbiscape shots, sharp editing, and some tactfully startling scares. But, in my opinion, its atmospheric success is in cultivating the dreadful “need” to just actively stare at some scenes just waiting to see something move in a dark hallway or baby cam video footage. This film is highly engaging on a sensory level, which is what created fans of White Noise (2005) and Paranormal Activity (2007).

The final sequence was a bit over-the-top for me, but overall this was a solid film and Mary’s psychological descent was well-played. The nature of some situations leads me to advise that parents of infants probably shouldn’t watch this. Otherwise, I’d advise this broadly to horror fans.

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