A dark and bloody horror thriller that explores the maternal bond in the face of paranoia and trauma. Is she really being pursued by a cult? Is her son really changing?
When watching a film or reading a story that features a cult, the audience usually has to contend with at least one unreliable narrator. The protagonist is either confused or brainwashed while living with a cult or remembering that life differently to others if some time has passed. One of my favorite films of recent years, The Endless, has two brothers returning to a “UFO death cult” a decade after leaving. Both have different memories of their time there, and both question their memories when they look again with grown-up eyes. In Son, it’s impossible to know who to believe for a good chunk of the film, and it is written and presented well enough that – fortunately – that makes the story gripping, rather than confusing.
Son centers on Laura (Andi Matichak, Halloween 2018) and – you guessed it – her son. We see her give birth to David in a brief panicky prologue, on the run from some real or imagined pursuer. About eight years later, Laura and David (now played by Luke David Blumm, The Sinner season 3) are living contented suburban lives, with a visibly affectionate bond. One night, Laura discovers strange people in David’s room and it looks as though whatever she had been running from may have caught up with her. Detective Paul Tate (Emile Hirsch, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) can’t find any evidence that anyone was there, so did Laura imagine the intrusion? But something certainly happened: David’s health takes a strange turn; and as his symptoms escalate, he becomes more difficult to take care of, and Laura digs back into the past she tried to put behind her to find a solution.
These three people, seemingly straightforward characters at first, are carefully drawn and surprisingly believable. David’s wellbeing is naturally of paramount importance to his mother, who finds there may be no limit to what she will do for him. David’s illness seems to come and go in waves, and when he’s well, he forgets the behavior he presented when he wasn’t; or maybe he just puts on a happy face, to mirror the euphemisms Laura uses for it. Then there’s the detective (“call me Paul”) whose motivations are either muddled or shady: does he believe Laura saw intruders and escaped from a cult, or just sweet-talking her to keep her on the side, as a (possibly dangerous) witness?
Written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh, Son is gripping, tense, bloody, and distinctly dark. Laura’s fear, desperation, and pain when watching her son’s malady were all incredibly effective, made more so by more than able direction, reinforced by persistently strong sound design. Whatever went on in Laura’s background, and whatever happened to David more recently, none of it is good. I can understand Paul treading carefully around them, regardless of any extra agenda; and I can understand too that the past can be extremely difficult to shake off. I have no doubt I’ll watch it again, but I’m not sure I need the ambiguities to become clearer. Everything we see could be “real” and maybe reality was viewed through a lens of what all three main characters expected to see: either way, it works.
I must say though that when Son needs special effects, whether for violence, infection, or the supernatural, they are just as nasty as they are convincing. What I find more admirable though is that although there were some clear influences, Son did not end up following any predictable path. The ending was sufficiently satisfying so that although it could be possible to write a sequel, I do hope that doesn’t happen. I might like to know a little bit more about Laura’s actual background, but I’m content to keep the mystery as it is.
RLJE Films will release the horror Son in Theaters and on Digital and On Demand on March 5, 2021.