Synopsis: When a young boy contracts a mysterious illness, his mother must decide how far she will go to protect him from terrifying forces in her past.
Stars: Emile Hirsch, Andi Matichak, Luke David Blumm, Kristine Nielsen, Rocco Sisto, Erin Bradley Dangar, Cranston Johnson
Director: Ivan Kavanaugh
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: When it comes to writing reviews, I find that I’m not one of those people that is good with the ‘instant reactions’ that like to be gathered up the moment the lights pop on and we’re left wincing like newborn moles. I need some time to think over the film I just saw and while my opinion might not shift too far in either direction there are a number of times when the longer I sit with a movie I’m middling on, the more I’ll find myself thinking of reasons why I liked it. It’s the films I know are turkeys you don’t want me to stew over; that will only lead to me getting more creative with my takedowns.
The new horror film Son is a solid example of one that moved up a couple of notches in my book in the weeks after I saw it. Originally, when it finished, my first reaction was that I found it to be a little too perfunctory and not where I wanted it to have settled itself. Though I had enjoyed most of what writer/director Ivan Kavanaugh had presented over the preceding 90-ish minutes, I wasn’t sure the ending provided me with the wrap-up that made the most sense. Then, since I rarely book it to the computer and do my write-up, I had a good three weeks to give the movie more consideration and it led to a greater appreciation as an above average effort. Though it still has some weak spots that no amount of time were going to patch, it juggles competing narratives well and manages to keep the audience in the dark concerning what exactly is happening longer than expected.
It’s best that you keep yourself free from distractions during Son because there’s a lot of clues dropped throughout by Kavanaugh that may help you solve the mystery of why a young pregnant girl is fleeing in the middle of the night from shadowy figures that are pursing her. Eventually giving birth in the back of a car as she makes her way to freedom, the timeline jumps ahead several years after Laura (Andi Matichak, Halloween) has moved on from her past and made a life for herself and her young son David (Luke David Blumm, The King of Staten Island) within the tranquility of a quiet town. As the young schoolteacher grades papers one evening while David sleeps, she thinks she hears a noise and goes to investigate, her body naturally on high alert thinking someone from long ago has returned for her. She’s mistaken though. It’s not an intruder. It’s many.
It’s a great scene to propel the film into its second act, giving Laura reason to fear for David’s safety after he is stricken with a terrible disease that puts his life in jeopardy. As she cares for her son and gets closer to a detective assigned to her case (Emile Hirsch, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), we still never can quite figure out where she came from or why the target on her back might have shifted over to her son. Determined to protect her child against an evil she can’t see outright, Laura eventually takes matters into her own hands, drawing on her dark past and the horrors that come with it. The further Laura and David run, the more bodies pile up in their wake until the police and Laura’s love interest begin to question if they are chasing a vicious killer or being sent on a wild good chase.
For a film that hinges on a twist that is revealed early on, I was a bit surprised at how Kavanagh manages to keep us questioning the solution almost until the very end. He’s gone ahead and very nearly told us what’s going on but then continues to shuffle his puzzle pieces around, forcing us to second guess ourselves. That makes for a fun experience and likely why the ho-hum ending felt so flat in comparison. It felt like we traveled a long road with these characters only to run out of gas five miles outside of town. So it mostly falls to Matichak to round off some of these rough edges and she’s excellent (though a tad young) as the harried mother trying to do right. Hirsch seems too young as well but he’s the kind of pro that can sell an age disparity to us with ease. I must admit it was tough to warm up to Blumm at first and it takes a while to see what Laura sees in David, but it’s in the latter half of the film when the action takes a brutally bloody turn that the young actor earns his stripes quite assuredly.
What keeps me coming back to movies like Son are the promise of a new idea in the horror genre or scary storytelling that I haven’t seen before. Or, maybe not even as restrictive as that. Let’s say a variation to an existing way to frighten that has bothered to take the time to really think about the kind of work that’s out there and actively tries to take a different approach. Even if it isn’t 100% successful, critics (and fans of this variety of film) often applaud that reach and eventually want to see more from those involved. Son isn’t a perfect film, but it’s closer to hitting the mark than you might originally think after sitting with it for a time. Thanks to some spine-tingly imagery and committed performances that add to the realistic tone Kavanaugh achieves, it’s a laudable effort that’s well worth your time to check out.