Andi Matichak shines in Ivan Kavanagh’s effective and surprising chiller Son that is full of confidence, this is a film that makes sure to get the little things right and, by its finale, has you gripped.
After a mysterious group breaks into Laura’s home and attempts to abduct her eight-year-old son, David, the two of them flee town in search of safety. But soon after the failed kidnapping, David becomes extremely ill, suffering from increasing psychosis and convulsions. Following her maternal instincts, Laura commits unspeakable acts to keep him alive, but soon she must decide how far she is willing to go to save her son.
Son takes you on a raw and rather startling journey with a story that keeps its cards very close to its chest in its opening 30 minutes before unravelling into a gripping finale. With an opening half that thoroughly engages, the film tries its best to keep it the pace steady. Yet that is sacrificed with a number of exposition scenes that slow the momentum down right when it needed to keep us going. We are presented with a fair amount of red herrings throughout, as the mystery continues to grow as to whether this is all in Laura’s traumatised mind or by the people she thinks have been orchestrating her sons illness to capture him for themselves. Kavanagh makes sure to keep his audience on its toes until the final scenes.
The introduction of what trauma could do to a person is raised very well here with our protagonist Laura. Have the incidents in her life that she has been taught to keep clear from her conscious been creeping back in? If so how does she react to it and will anyone believe her if she told? She knows it spells disaster for her life if she declines mentally from the weight of these new events and her son needs her urgently to find a solution to his unexplainable illness. But even as she tries her best to keep him a live, her mental state is going to worsen and if David does get better, will that affect him?
When David gets sick, you feel the desperation in Laura, that maternal bond is very strong here and Matichak’s performance in the opening third of Son feel much akin to Ellen Burstyn’s turn as Chris MacNeill in The Exorcist. She is willing to do anything to help her son, yet for what she can see, the medical field can offer her no help. For anyone who has experienced this with a family member, you will know how helpless you feel and how you almost lose yourself from the stress while trying to be strong for the ill loved one.
What makes Son work so well, is how it could easily run through without any shocking or gore filled scenes and still work. It just so happens that Kavanagh knows exactly the moments to accentuate his story with horror, causing you to be grabbed better. Sometimes an increase in blood is not warranted, here however, it is welcomed as it hammers home what is happening even more.
The use of hard cuts to these moments are tremendous and seriously jolt you, especially at the start of the film, as you just never expect to see it. You may expect a scare or shocking moment to happen, but Kavanagh makes sure you see it in a fairly fresh and again startling manner. The detail in the effects and make-up by Sara Ann Callaway and Leo Corey Castellano drag you kicking and screaming into this chiller and provide at least one or too shudders.
Andi Matichak delivers an enduring performance as the desperate Laura. Her sympathetic portrayal resonates throughout, whether you believe what is happening to her or if you think it is all in her mind. What matters is that she cares, and she is just trying to look after her boy and by giving us an excellent and believable performance of a woman who has that affection while coupled with trying to move on from horrific trauma in her life.
Her chemistry with the wonderful Luke David Blumm (David) helps bring in the audience when we are purposefully given crumbs. If their connection and Matichak’s performance do not work, Son would not be nearly as effective. Like Hirsch’s performance (which we will get to), it is the little moments that stand out. In one of the motels after an incident, David hugs Laura, but we only see Laura’s reaction to it, and for the briefest of seconds, she winces. You feel that, and you understand her conflict at that moment.
As Paul, the detective on the mysterious break-in, Emile Hirsch’s turn shows why having strong actors in these supporting roles works wonders for it. Here he gives us little facial movements that compel you. Instead, you trust him as a character and considering the tough job Hirsch has of being the anchor between Laura’s struggles and the world of reality the film has created; he succeeds immensely.
However, Son’s focus on the overarching story and the fact that it is playing off the mystery aspect of its narrative so much hampers us from feeling more for the characters, especially for David. Perhaps it is the sudden nature of David’s illness. But, by giving us the briefest glimpses or what feels like fast-forwarded moments, we do not become as invested as we should. An example of how Reagan was presented in The Exorcist for example, we spent time with her, so when she went through what she did, we were heartbroken. In Son, we are more heartbroken for Laura, when ideally you would want to be for both mother and son.
Aza Hand’s score allows the film to breathe, with the audience feeling suspenseful at the lack of score embedded in. By weaving itself in as required, it allows us to concentrate on what is presented before us visually and makes those musical moments resonate far more, not to mention listen to some of the subtle sound design elements thrown in to get to us. Kavanagh and director of photography Piers McGrail have worked carefully in Son as everything feels so precise in their shot choices.
A prime example is of Laura talking to David while cleaning a mess in the bathroom. Usually, we would see the actors facial reactions to what she is doing. Yet, Kavanagh and McGrail have us just watching the floor and her feet, as we watch what she is doing, and it hits you differently, almost as if we are being spared her reaction for her own good rather than to just have that emotional scene. In fact it could be said it works far better and clever moments like that truly help the film.
Son is a film rife with little touches that, as a whole, work fantastically well. Ivan Kavanagh’s film strikes you, with strong performances throughout his film. He has given us an anxiety-filled horror that isn’t afraid to show its brutal side.
As a quick note, ignore the trailer etc for Son as it may spoil more than you would like, see it with as little visuals as possible!
Son is showing now on Shudder
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