By ROCCO THOMPSON
Starring Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, and Shelley Thompson
Directed by Michael Melski
Written by Michael Melski
Beginning with the ominous scrape of a shovel and ending in a scream of terror, Canadian chiller THE CHILD REMAINS is filled with so many elements, longueurs, and ideas, it’s easy to forget just how we got from opening scratch to closing shriek. Though writer/director Michael Melski’s film may well be too much of a grab bag to stick the landing, for much of its runtime, it’s an adequately compelling haunted house mystery with a gynecological bent that barely squeaks by on the strength of its performances.
THE CHILD REMAINS is held together by Suzanne Clément (best known for her work with director Xavier Dolan) who plays Rae, a has-been crime journalist suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the case that ended her career. Pregnant, mentally fragile, and on the cusp of turning forty-two, Rae begrudgingly accompanies her wannabe composer husband, Liam (Allan Hawco) on a weekend stay at a remote inn that once served as a home for unwed mothers. As Rae starts to experience weird phenomena, it becomes clear that there’s more to the old building and the goodly woman who runs it (Shelley Thompson) than meets the eye.
As a cold-blooded exploration of a couple’s splintering relationship–a setup common enough in horror by now to warrant its own snappy moniker as a subgenre, perhaps “Nuptial Nightmares” or “Connubial Creepies”–THE CHILD REMAINS functions like so many films of this type do, and although the central couple may fall a little too familiarly into the down-to-earth husband and “crazy” wife boxes, the PTSD angle at least lends some credence and dramatic weight to the fact that Rae’s thinking may not be terribly clear. This reviewer would typically snort at a line like “It’s like the house has what I have.”, but Clément sells gamely sells the clumsy analogy. Less convincing in his performance is Hawco who, once bewitched by the inn’s malefic energy, exposes himself as a macho bruised egotist despite his initially gentle artist’s nature. It would seem that Melski is using the character to point out men’s weaknesses and insecurities in a wider sense, but the only clue that there might be a there there comes from Thompson, who casts aspersions against him late in the film as her tooth-rotting sweetness curdles into withering cruelty.
The three do solid enough work that once THE CHILD REMAINS goes off the rails, it’s still watchable if not exactly coherent. The film’s footing starts to slip in the back end–taking a hard left into sensationalism and becoming so full of stuff, you’d think that Melski graduated from the Ryan Murphy school of screenwriting. Demonic pregnancies, eugenics, religious hypocrisy, ghostly piano compositions, hemoglobin-derived youth serums, messages from beyond, slasher-style violence, sautéed infants, basement monsters, and secret genealogies collide in a mentally exhausting wreck of half-formed ideas and thematic muck that gums up the works of what could have been mistaken for a Ti Westian slow-burn in its first half. There’s certainly an authority and dedication from both director and cast to the unholy mess of it all, but ultimately, THE CHILD REMAINS is all sizzle, no (baby) steak.
THE CHILD REMAINS is available now on streaming platforms