Opening Scenes Preview:
STILL/BORN opens with a scene of a woman giving birth in a traditional hospital setting. She's surrounded by medical personnel and her obviously attentive, caring husband. After much effort, a baby is born and all appears to be well. All smiles all around. And then, suddenly, the mother goes back into labor. It's going to be twins.
But something isn't right. Looks of concern and distress. The second baby is stillborn.
The movie soon turns to domestic life with Mary, the new mother and Jack, Mary's loving and attentive but very busy husband. Clearly their opulent home in an opulent neighborhood is new to them, and while Jack goes to work every day, Mary stays at home and works at the process of moving in and setting up the home. On the surface, everything looks very domestic, very loving, very happy. There is even a next-door neighbor who is also a brand-new mom who is very friendly and quite lovely.
But something isn't right. At first it's just little things. There's that light hanging over the first landing on the stairs that seems to turn itself on and off, slowly and creepily, as Mary approaches it or moves away. And then Adam, the new baby, won't take milk directly from Mary. Mary has plenty of milk and uses a pump to fill bottles, but Adam won't respond to her, increasing her sense of alienation.
And then Mary hears two baby voices on the baby monitor. In happy anticipation, Mary goes rushing into the nursery, apparently expecting to see the second crib with Thomas, the stillborn baby, crying within it. We sense that Mary is slipping.
The sense of unease grows. Jack tries to convince Mary to let him break down and remove the second crib for obvious reasons. Having it there with Thomas's name over it can't be a positive influence for Mary's mental health. Vehemently, Mary refuses.
And then Mary sees some other woman reaching for her baby in the video monitor, but when she runs to the nursery, everything is fine. But Mary is convinced there's someone else in the house and tells Jack so. Jack comforts Mary, but we see the unease and concern in his face.
The emotional distance between Jack and Mary increases. Jack can tell there's something wrong, but can't identify what it is. And Mary is pulling back from Jack and won't really talk to him.
And then one night, that creepy hanging light on the stairs slowly turns itself on, and soon we hear Adam crying in the baby monitor. Mary, obviously tired, gets out of bed and goes to the nursery, and picking Adam up, comforts him in the traditional motherly way. When it works, she puts Adam back in his crib. But before she can turn to leave, she hears another baby, very clearly, crying from the crib behind her. Stunned, without turning around, she slowly backs towards the other crib. Thomas' crib. Thomas who died at birth.
Suddenly, she wheels around and looks into the crib and sees a literal pond of blood in which lies the remains of a destroyed baby. Horrified, she turns away, and when she looks again... It's just an empty crib.
And then Mary goes back to bed, and when Jack asks her if everything is all right, she calmly replies that everything is fine. And we wonder... Is something horrific actually happening or has losing a child addled Mary's mind?
The best word that describes STILL/BORN is "professional". The music is professional, the acting is professional, the cinematography and the camera trucks and the pacing and the actors are all professional, professional, professional.
As others have observed, there is nothing new or original in STILL/BORN. I deduct no points for this, however, because no sensible person can possibly have a reasonable expectation of genuine novelty in a supernatural horror picture given the fact that countless thousands of them have been made at this point. Any real novelty is, perforce, ultra-rare. Deducting points from a movie for failing to do the nearly impossible doesn't seem right to me. Fortunately, like great roller coasters, well done fireworks and true love, supernatural horror pictures don't need to really have novelty or originality, they only have to be well made in order to be enjoyable. Novelty and newness is the purview of toddlers and teenagers. There are other legitimate pleasures. The experience of happy anticipation that is positively resolved with "living again the age-old joys that passing time endears" can hold its own against novelty any day. On those rare occasions when I encounter actual novelty, that's just finding an extra cherry on top.
Mostly, a quality horror flick is created by writers and directors that turn to The Big Recipe Book of Horror Tropes and, being careful to select only the best ingredients and strongest flavors, whip up a dish of pure, terrifying delight.
Sad to say, the writer and director of STILL/BORN picked only the cheapest, moldy old ingredients. In fact, they picked stuff that was NEVER any good even decades ago when it was actually novel.
1. Primary protagonist begins to experience odd events.
2. Primary protagonist establishes him/her self as mentally brittle and emotionally unstable. All other characters begin suspecting the sanity of the primary protagonist. Mix in a healthy dollop of absolutely-no-communication from the primary protagonist.
3. Pick your ending from the following possibilities:
A. Primary protagonist dies/gets locked up and we discover it was all in their head.
B. Primary protagonist dies/gets locked up and we discover they were right all along; remaining characters filled with regret/horror.
C. Primary protagonist dies/gets locked up and we discover they were BOTH crazy AND they were right all along; remaining characters filled with regret/horror.
For STILL/BORN, it was 3C. Yes, 3C was the correct answer.
While there is no need to forgive the lack of originality or novelty in a horror picture, it still has to have a good story. Diluting the focus and effectiveness of the horror experience with a primary character that's brittle, unstable and stupid is just not a good story. I found myself wondering who was going to do more damage to the Adam, the unstable Mary or the supernatural "entity". I wound up not being scared, just annoyed.
If you'd like to see a picture with many of the same plot elements that actually works where STILL/BORN fails (although from a science-fiction rather than supernatural context), I recommend THE FORGOTTEN (2004). In THE FORGOTTEN we encounter an entity threatening a mother's child who finds out how a determined mother can be a far more formidable opponent than might be expected. It gives you some context regarding all the things that STILL/BORN really lacks. STILL/BORN is a very professionally made but very meh movie.