SON ***

Directed by Ivan Kavanagh.

Starring Andi Matichak, Emile Hirsch, Luke David Blum.

Horror, US, 98 minutes.


Streaming on Shudder from July 8th 2021.


Writer and director Ivan Kavanagh’s SON begins in a disquieting manner. Over a dark screen, what sounds like feedback combined with screaming gives way to a car speeding through the rainswept night. It’s driver, a pregnant barefoot woman is seemingly being pursued. Evading her followers, she gives birth in the car, telling her newborn son “I don’t want you!” Flashing forward a few years we now find the woman, Laura, played by Andi Matichak, familiar to viewers as Laurie Strode’s granddaughter from the new Halloween trilogy, in a far more settled fashion. Living and working as a teacher in a small town she also seems to have settled more into her role as mother to her son David. The past seems to raise its unwelcome head however when David is struck by a mysterious and severely debilitating disease, while at the same time mysterious strangers seem to appear in David’s bedroom at night. From here we follow Laura on a nightmarish journey as she tries to protect her son and discover the key to his illness which lies in her shattered memories.


It is a set-up that manages to intrigue and grip the viewer in a number of unsettling ways. Kavanagh, working from his own script, manages to bring a level of dread and creepiness with an impressive line in disturbing imagery. Although children under threat from the supernatural and the mysterious is nothing new in horror Kavanagh is unafraid to put young David through the wringer, setting up an unexpected development for the young boy that takes the film in another intriguing and frequently gory direction. Alongside these possible supernatural events we follow Emile Hirsch’s detective as he follows Laura, discovering just what she was running from years before. With each new revelation Kavanagh’s patient storytelling manages to string the viewer along for the most part.


Where the film fumbles slightly is in its use of the issue of abuse, using it as nothing more than a cheap plot point. Never exploring it seriously and using it as a possible excuse for a character’s possible state of mind feels like a bit of a cynical tactic that Kavanagh is not really prepared or sharp enough to explore properly or honestly. It is a plot strand that sits uneasily amongst the more fantastical elements where Kavanagh’s strengths seem to be more successful. Also impressive is the outsider’s eye he brings to the American landscape that Laura flees across. With the aid of Piers McGrail’s impressive cinematography he captures the feeling of hurricane blasted small towns lit up by the neon lights of motel parking lots and all-night diners.


Despite its flaws SON is a film that proves to be gripping throughout. The cast all deliver strong performances, particularly Matichak, whilst Kavanagh seems to have ambitions to deliver something different and more ambitious than your average mother on the run from evil forces narrative. In trying to pull no punches he may not fully succeed but he manages to deliver a film that is more fascinating and interesting than what is being presented at first and signals that his next work could be even more successful and interesting.


Iain MacLeod.


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