Canadian independent horror offering The Child Remains borrows from the heartbreaking, true story of the “Butterbox Babies” — a series of murders and illegal adoptions at a Novia Scotia maternity home in the 1920s through 1940s — as a jumping-off point, and puts a supernatural spin on things. The result is a brooding, atmospheric chiller that delivers a whopper of a third act.
Writer/director Michael Melski’s story concerns married couple Rae (Suzanne Clément) and Liam (Allan Hawco), who go to the secluded Mersey bed and breakfast for Rae’s birthday weekend. It’s no secret from the start that something is amiss with proprietor Monica (Shelley Thompson), who senses correctly that Rae is pregnant. Rae is also a former investigative reporter who has stayed away from work while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she begins having strange, nightmarish visions at the Mersey. This is for good reason; the building had a horrible history, having once been a home for unwed mothers run by Monica’s mother, who sold off healthy babies illegally and killed those she considered unsellable. She had no problem murdering the young mothers, either.
The main characters, which include genre stalwart Géza Kovács as mysterious groundskeeper Talbot, are well-written and brought to vivid life by talented, experienced performers. Melski’s screenplay gives the actors plenty of fine material with which to work. Rae and Liam are having a difficult time because of her PTSD and pregnancy, and the evil that resides within the Mersey finds plenty of frailties to exploit in both people. As insecurities are complicated by this otherworldly threat and minds are manipulated by evil forces, some characters go through personality changes and others find themselves in terrifying ordeals. The seasoned cast members handle everything they are given with aplomb.
Michael Melski imbues The Child Remains with an ever-present sense of dread, using a slow-burning — but always intriguing and engaging — approach until he unleashes that corker of a final act. A ghost box, eerie toys, and certain unnerving discoveries made by Rae are but a few things that help build suspense. Melski focuses on psychological horror in the tradition of such films as The Conjuring, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Legend of Hell House, planting mysteries and twists in viewers’ minds.
The Child Remains may be an independent film with a lower budget, but Melski and his crew give this film a fantastic look. Splendid cinematography, taut direction and crisp editing, creepy set design, and a fitting score all work in harmony to offer up one of the finer horror efforts of this year’s festival offerings. Viewers who bemoan the state of recent teen-targeted horror movies or who miss the classic stylings of more adult-oriented fear fare should especially add this motion picture to their need-to-see lists.
The Child Remains screens at Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival, which runs November 23–26 at the Royal Cinema in Toronto, Canada.
(4 / 5)