Son is a 2021 horror-thriller film written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh. The film stars Andi Matichak as Laura, a woman whose sexually abusive upbringing in a cult comes back to haunt her when the cult returns for her son, David (Luke David Blumm). Laura goes to extreme lengths to uncover what she knows is true and protect her boy.
The opening and the look. Within the first three frames — 1. the road, 2. the outside of the diner, 3. the inside of the diner — you know this film has style. Each of these shots and each subsequent one is well planned out and visually appealing. The introductory sequence is worthy of note and takes on a bit of a neon-noir look. We get to see the captivating shot composition and colorful lighting, especially during the nighttime scenes. The cinematographer Piers McGrail clearly took time to plan out and skillfully execute a visual language for the film.
The concept. The central premise is a great one. With clear Rosemary's Baby influences, Son is another take on the monster baby concept, so famous in horror history. This concept works so well because it’s relatable — the bond between a mother and child is so strong and so primal. We have all been vulnerable children in need of a parent. Some of us have experienced it from the other side and been the parent who lives to protect. This dynamic and our feelings surrounding it are deeply ingrained in our DNA. To make a horror film about this is perfect. Son is a film that constantly asks — “What would you do?” — and viewers make up their minds as they watch the film.
The story. Son could have spoken about serious themes that have to do with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, child sexual abuse, motherhood, conspiracies, or cults. However, the film takes no stance on any of these concepts. Son has no opinions and manages to suggest nothing to its audience. This would have been fine if the movie took the time to explore its own universe instead. There’s a whole cult in this film that we learn nothing about. We get small glimpses into what they believe in and what they do — it could have made for such a fascinating B plot. The viewer is never allowed to look into that world. It’s not just the cult. The film doesn't explain anything. The son with his condition is never explored. We understand “why” from context, but a further exploration into “what” would have been engaging. We don't get to know the mother or the son as people, we just know they’re close. As a result, the movie exclusively has flat characters. Despite the lack of explanation, Son is never confusing. The story is extremely simple, so the viewer will never feel left behind. The movie has an unsurprising and unsatisfying twist ending. For a satisfying twist, the seeds need to be planted throughout the film and still be unexpected to the average movie-goer. On numerous rewatches, it becomes pretty obvious, thanks to the clues. Son doesn't pull this off, and the outcome is an unrewarding ending. It's not just the ending though, Son had predictable beats throughout.
The problems. Several times, I was taken out of the movie. This is an occult horror, so suspension of disbelief is a requirement. Often, run-ins with the legal system seem to make no sense. The opening scene shows the quickest, easiest birth anyone has ever seen. The child's acting is not very good. The sound design is less than stellar — more than once, the boy's mouth did not match up with his screams. These tiny problems add up and result in the viewer consistently disengaging from the film.
The horror. As a genre film, Son works. It does a good job scaring the audience and does so through jump scares with effectively constructed ambiance. The lead, Andi Matichak proves herself to be an exceptional horror actor — her screams, her torment, and her fear was all palpable. Her performance carried the film. There is plenty of gore and kills, and the practical effects and makeup were impressively realistic. The humanoid monsters are scary, well-designed, and will leave you wanting more. The horror aspect is where this movie shines.