THE CHILD REMAINS (Michael Melski). 107 minutes. Opens Friday (May 18). See listing. Rating: NNN
Last November, when The Child Remains screened in Toronto at the Blood In The Snow film festival, I praised the performances of stars Suzanne Clément and Allan Hawco, and also mentioned it could use probably one more pass in the editing bay.
Funny story: Nova Scotia writer/director Michael Melski subsequently did just that, tightening up the movie by a few minutes and adding a new beat in the midsection that really does improve the pacing. And now that the film is opening theatrically, you can see it at its best.
The Child Remains is a simple, effective creeper about an expectant couple spending a really bad weekend in a haunted inn, with great performances from stars Suzanne Clément and Allan Hawco and a fine sense of East Coast atmosphere.
With his first venture into horror, writer/director Melski – whose previous features include the comedy Growing Op and the thriller Charlie Zone – is paying homage to slow-burn classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Changeling, where supernatural threats serve to amplify whatever real-world baggage the characters are already carrying. (Here, those threats bear a striking resemblance to the horrors of Nova Scotia’s Butterbox Babies scandal.)
Clément and Hawco are very good at playing those notes – they’re more confused than frightened at first, which makes them look like sensible people instead of characters in a horror movie – while Shelley Thompson and Géza Kovács go a little bigger in supporting roles as cinematographer Ken Le Blanc slowly dials up the atmosphere.
That’s pretty much all there is to The Child Remains, but it’s more than enough for a modestly budgeted horror movie. No one’s trying to reinvent the wheel here the machinery works just fine, and I remain grateful that Melski doesn’t play out every scene in exhausting slow motion the way the Conjuring or Insidious movies do.
Watching people wait for something to jump out at them isn’t scary, it’s just frustrating. The Child Remains dares to be scary.