REVIEW: Son (2021)

dir. Ivan Kavanagh.

Laura (Andi Matichak) drives through the sleeting rain, the religious zeal of radio preachers merging with the cacophonous storm outside. Seeking shelter at a diner she clutches her pregnant belly, wearing only a dirtied night dress, her bare feet filthy. Unseen, two men dressed in black enter, see her, and slip wordlessly into the booths behind, eyes locked on their prize.

It’s a tremendous opener, and one emblematic of Kavanagh’s taut composition, threats constantly lurking at the edge of the frame whilst our point-of-view (and paranoia) remain linked to Laura. We soon learn that she has her baby and – though initially adamant she doesn’t want him – a flash-forward reveals her to be a good mother, raising son David (Luke David Blumm) by herself in a nice neighbourhood with a stable job. David himself seems blissfully unaware of whatever past trauma prefigured his birth, and Laura too appears to have moved on. That is until a late-night moment of horror – and David’s ensuing mystery illness – alters the trajectory of their idyllic lives forever.

This catalytic nocturnal sequence is amongst the very best scenes of the year, and is only the first in a series of exemplary moments which eschew traditional jump-scare-tactics for a more sublime sort of unease. It’s true that as the plot unfolds the narrative beats are familiar, drawing from genre-mainstay Rosemary’s Baby in particular, but everything is executed with such restraint so as to exquisitely ramp up not only the tension but also the aching empathy for Laura as a woman increasingly isolated from (or possibly entrapped by) those around her.

This is anchored in Matichak’s superb performance, Laura’s humanity deeply enriching the “is-she-isn’t-she-mad” trope, whilst Emile Hirsch is excellent as the cop assigned to her case (and maybe the last person who believes her increasingly outlandish theories about what’s happening). Their dynamic – as much as Laura and David’s relationship – is at Son’s heart: a woman disclosing secret nightmares and the male protector who could be her only ally.

Ultimately there are few narrative surprises as things move inexorably towards its conclusion, but this in no-way diminishes the journey: a tightly told, caustic and textured tale of a woman alone, the tenderness of her maternal love and a patriarchal world of terror.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tim Coleman

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