Starring Christie Burke, Jesse Moss, Rebecca Olson and Dylan Playfair
Written by Brandon Christensen and Colin Minihan
Directed by Brandon Christensen
The most frightening thing about bringing something new into the world is potential. Not just the potential of the thing itself but also what that potential means to its creators. The wondrous prospect of seeing it soar is always tinged with dread of a fall and exultations of joy are inevitably followed closely by desperate, whispered prayers against helplessness. Still/Born encapsulates these potentialities from within and without. Co-writer/Director Brandon Christensen has helped bring something new into the world with his debut feature and now lies prostrate at the mercy of its potential. Like the tragic birth that drives it, his film is laced with hope but also haunted by the spectre of what could have been.
Still/Born is the story of Mary, a new mother who is faced with the terrible fortune of having one of her newborn twins die during childbirth. Her nightmare takes an even darker turn when she begins to experience strange happenings centered around her baby that may or may not be all in her head. Is she suffering through a psychological breakdown or is something sinister really out to take her living son, Adam, away from her too?
While the plot might not be terribly original, points should be given to Christensen and co-writer Colin Minihan for at least attempting to tackle this familiar ground in new ways. The theme of duality pervades throughout the film, but unfortunately creates a schism within the production that makes it difficult to fully enjoy. The duo seems daunted by the potential of their more interesting ideas and fall back on tired genre tropes time and again as a crutch. This trepidation is palpable in those instances when the film delivers a truly interesting shot, scene or premise only to immediately follow with a “safer”, more cliched decision. If an even balance between these two elements had been struck the film might have worked better but, sadly, it merely amounts to several bright spots of clover shining among a field of beaten, dead horses.
From a technical standpoint the film is much stronger. Christensen’s eye for aesthetics is, at times, breathtaking with several quiet, contemplative shots that capture their moments perfectly. Particularly there is a shot toward the end of the film, during the climax, that is shockingly striking and should remove anyone’s ability to write off Christensen as just another genre hack. His strong visionary capability should serve him well in any future endeavors. Hopefully, though, the next time he’s at the plate he’ll risk swinging as hard as he can instead of laying down a sacrifice bunt and legging it out.
The performances in the film are solid but unchalleging for the bulk of the cast as the onus of carrying the piece lies solely on the lead, Christie Burke. For the most part she rises to the call. Her portrayal of Mary does slide into slightly “screamy” territory at times but I’d lay most of the the blame on that to the direction. She begins the film every bit the doe-eyed mother struggling with profound loss, transitions into a fierce, fiery eyed lioness when her baby is threatened and then, when the film calls for her character to become completely unhinged toward the end, you will definitely believe in every ounce of wide-eyed crazy she pours out. Burke is, undoubtedly, Still/Born’s strongest element as she almost single-handedly makes the film worth watching.
In conclusion, as has already been stated, Still/Born is a story of potential, both wasted and realized. While the “Ghosts of Genre Past” weigh down much of the production, rays of hope remain throughout, piercing the veil of cliche. For a first effort it’s certainly better than most, just don’t expect it to change your world or end up on any “Best of” lists at the end of the year. It’s a middle of the road haunter that falls farther than it soars. Maybe the next new thing Christensen brings into the world can get closer to the sun. The potential is certainly there.
A serviceable haunter with a host of cliches. Viewers who don’t mind treading very familiar ground will be rewarded with a strong lead performance and some interesting visual and narrative choices. A film of bridled potential.