The Child Remains

A film with a severe identity crisis will usually make for a frustrating sit, dependant on the subject matter. Michael Melski has crafted a story with so many conflicting thematic elements that it’s difficult to discern his intended core narrative or to care about it. On its surface, a couple’s weekend getaway at a maternity home-turned-inn with a history of infanticide sets up a typical haunted house scenario with a dash of maternal fright but is undone by a litany of increasingly obtuse (yet fully predictable) plot twists. The Child Remains strives to be a unique amalgamation of horror themes, however, it ultimately results in a confounded muddling through mismatched generic set pieces.

“…inspired by the real-life black market adoption ring at the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia…”

The story is inspired by the real-life black market adoption ring at the Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia; known widely now as the Butterbox Babies. Rae (Suzanne Clément), an accomplished crime scene reporter struggling with post-traumatic stress, and her musician husband Liam (Allan Hawco), have left the city for her birthday weekend to find a calm spot in nature to recharge and reconnect. The hostess Monica (Shelley Thompson) is frightfully cheery and accommodating to the pair, contrasting harshly with the aging and looming groundskeeper Talbot (Géza Kovács). While underlying issues with their marriage rise due to their misconceptions over Rae’s pregnancy, the shadowy rooms, and surrounding forest hide dark secrets as to the building and staff’s terrible history.

This is billed on IMDb as “a twisting supernatural thriller and homage to slow-burn vintage horror like The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby and Session 9”. This is the central problem. The filmmakers want The Child Remains to be so akin to the aforementioned films that they directly lifted elements from them without any change to incorporate them effectively into the existing narrative. This led to overly cliched relationships, unnaturally temperamental characters, murky motivations, painfully irrational reactions (even considering the supernatural motivators), and an inflated runtime that stays half an hour past its welcome.

“…far more interesting than the hammy humdrum horror story…”

While Clément, Hawco, Thompson, and (especially) Kovács are fully committed to their roles, they seem to be wandering about set, hazily snatching in a direction that just isn’t there. Ken Le Blanc’s cinematography is impressively narrow and claustrophobic, utilizing camera movement and placement with a surprising effectiveness. Thorben Bieger’s editing is consistent and emphasizes whatever anticipation it can from the material, though it suffers and lags as a result of the overstuffed plot.

After a bland opener that would be at home in any made-for-TV Stephen King movie, the next handful of scenes had me truly on this film’s side. I wanted it to succeed. Its simmering pace, eerie shot composition, and well-rounded cast all had the hallmarks of an indie horror darling in the making, but it just wasn’t to be. Much like Sheldon Wilson’s The Unspoken, the prologue is far more interesting than the hammy humdrum horror story and would have made for a more engaging film. Though armed with a few flashes of intrigue and spookiness, the sum is far less than its parts, and The Child Remains is sloshed together mess and almost completely forgettable.

The Child Remains (2017) Directed by Michael Melski. Written by Michael Melski. Starring Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson, Géza Kovács.

★★ / ☆☆☆☆☆

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