There are few things as exciting as seeing a well crafted, effective horror film only to find out later that the film was created by a first-time director. When a film is so clean and seamless, it’s easy to assume that the individuals behind it are probably seasoned veterans. It often comes as a surprise to learn that the filmmakers behind some of these pieces of honed, polished art are actually freshman in the industry. Still/Born is exactly that kind of directorial debut for first-time director Brandon Christensen.
Co-written by director Brandon Christensen and producer Colin Minihan (It Stains the Sand Red, Grave Encounters), Still/Born tells the story of Mary (Christie Burke) and Jack (Jesse Moss), new parents to what should have been two baby boys. The film opens on a beautiful birthing scene that feels intimate and precious, however the once sweet moment quickly turns sour when one of the babies is stillborn. Mary and Jack, who had been expecting twins, are devastated and struggle to cope with the loss after leaving the hospital with their new son, Adam. Immediately after this heartbreaking moment, the film cuts to a gorgeous aerial shot that gives this indie film a big budget feel. The cinematography, by Bradley Stuckel, only becomes more impressive from that point on; Stuckel subtly captures the symbolic imagery peppered throughout the film. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of this imagery is the perfectly symmetrical nursery, with a crib on either side of the room; a constant reminder of the son they lost. Jack encourages Mary to take the other crib down, but she is clearly not ready to take that step; as though taking the crib down will solidify the hard truth.
As if Mary’s real life horrors weren’t enough, a supernatural entity with malevolent intent soon arrives and Mary not only must face her own demons, but the actual demon, Lamashtu, who is literally trying to steal her baby. The presence of Lamashtu is truly unsettling and Dianne Snape does a stellar job portraying the sinister creature. Although the film does have supernatural elements which make it effectively spooky horror, it also has the added element of the real life horror surrounding postpartum psychosis and depression, issues that can be really hard to talk about and even harder to tell an honest, personal story about while treating the subject matter with respect. I strongly believe Still/Born did just that.
The emotional layers of the story are tragic, yet beautifully explored by the incredibly talented Christie Burke. She gives an honest and harrowing performance and succeeds in telling a really hard to tell story. Jesse Moss plays wonderfully opposite Burke and the two share some really special on screen chemistry, making the characters familiar and easy to sympathize with.
Overall, Still/Born surprised me in ways I never expected and I definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of maternal horror. It was well rounded with great performances, gorgeous cinematography, and maintained a true to the genre spooky undertone throughout. I am very impressed by Christensen’s debut feature and I am definitely looking forward to what he creates next.
Still/Born is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime.