Movie Reviews: Still/Born (2017)

While the times have been changing and the quality film window has been growing, the first couple months of the years are still a dumping ground for shitty horror movies.  Sure, we get the occasional Get Out, but for the most part, the quality is generally far more related to Insidious: The Last Key or the as still unseen by me Winchester.  So, when I see a horror movie sitting at 90% this time of year, I’m gonna trek the 30+ minutes to go see it.  Sadly, that brief and uncharacteristic burst of enthusiasm was rewarded with a film I almost walked out of early and regularly considered it.

Still/Born is the kind of film where you can accurately predict every single plot point from the first five minutes or any random five-minute period after that.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, there’s plenty of good if predictable films made every year, but this was the kind of film where every single damn moment is predictable.  Each horror scene breaks out the modern “spooky” music which builds until a loud jump scare scene and they are all the exact same jump scare.  The kind from those early internet videos with feature a monster popping out and basically yelling boo.  Heck, in the monster’s first appearance, I swear that thing showed up with literal jazz hands.

As evidenced by the stupidly punctuated title, this film tells of a new mother dealing with the troubles of new motherhood after one of her twins was stillborn.  This fact is never relevant again.  Sure, it adds to her postpartum depression and people assume it is part of the reason she is going crazy, but in terms of the main plot, it has zero relevance.  I’d say it was added purely for shock appeal as it kills that sucker off before the credits, but the film hides the dead baby or really any sort of gore.  It’s just so misguided and I’d give it credit for being a misdirect, but let’s not forget what it really is, a conduit for more jump scares.

And there are no other types of horror.  This isn’t a The Conjuring or Insidious which marries the indie horror style of atmospheric tension and the mainstream style of jump scares, it’s all the latter over and over again and set up intentionally.  It briefly feints towards technological horror, with the baby monitors picking up strange voices and toward being Paranormal Activity with its home surveillance cameras watching the place, but it forgets what made that film great.  It’s the fact that most of the time nothing (or at least something subtle) happens so that when the big scares come, your body is all tense and on edge.  Here it’s every time a video screen comes up, you know that it’s time for the monster to make a big appearance.

I’d say it was a spoiler that there’s a baby stealing monster who has marked her baby for kidnap for reasons(?), but the film makes this obvious well before it early on states this outright.  Picture in your head what this creature looks like, go ahead, I’ll give you a minute.  Back?  I bet you pictured a long haired, wrinkly old woman who appears naked, but the film plays coy with it and moves about in spastic movements.  Congrats, you have all the imagination of one of these hack filmmakers.

As far as the cast goes, Michael Ironside shows up for literally two scenes as the mother’s psychiatrist, but otherwise it is a cast of unknowns.  Christie Burke gives what is clearly meant to be a critic baiting performance but to me just came off as alternatingly silly (the only highlight of the movie being when she yells at the baby to “Shut the fuck up Adam”) and tiresome.  We are supposed to feel her pain as she deals with those trying to tell her she is crazy (a plot that goes identically to every movie like this) and the monster trying to take her baby, but I just did not care one bit about her, the film shooting itself in the foot in an attempt to keep things ambiguous.  The rest of the cast overacts their scenes but in a completely dull and forgettable way.

I’m not going to pretend this is the first time I’ve felt the fiery tongues of hatred towards a well-reviewed early year horror film, but this one really caught me by surprise.  When you make a film with such an established formula, it’s hard to screw it up too much.  And yet, this film did just that.  Maybe it’s the way that the film was boring but too loud with scare chords that assaulted my brain for me to just zone out to.  Maybe it’s that one person showed up about ten minutes in to ruin my chance at a solo movie or the crappy seats (I thought we had moved past the point of back breaking seats in movie theaters).  Maybe it is just the fact that modern horror has proven what it can do regularly, and these kinds of films just can’t justify existing anymore.  Whatever the reason, this is a tired film that does absolutely nothing that countless other films haven’t done better and exactly the same before.