Directed and written by Ivan Kavanagh.
Starring Andi Matichak, Emile Hirsch, Luke David Blumm, Cranston Johnson, Blaine Maye, J. Robert Spencer, Rocco Sisto, Kristine Nielsen, Erin Bradley Dangar, Adam Stephenson, David Kallaway, Ethan McDowell, Garrett Kruithof, Craig Leydecker, Abbey Rhyne, Madison Sorrentino, Alexander Ward
Writer director Ivan Kavanagh, who delivered one of the most powerful horror films in recent years, THE CANAL, is back with another harrowing tale of the horrors of parenting. THE CANAL was laced with all kinds of ghostly phenomenon yet made it all with a super-strong psychological bend. SON is his new movie and it’s just as psychologically twisted, but this time deals with demons, cults, abuse and paranoia.
SON begins with a bang with HALLOWEEN 2018’s Andi Matichak playing Laura, distraught, mud-covered, and very pregnant trying to get a moments peace in a diner despite her appearance. When two men enter the diner, she immediately races out and drives into the stormy night only to pull over later and have her baby and screaming “I don’t want you!” The film then skips forward what looks to be a decade as Laura struggles to manage night school, teach at a kindergarten, and raise her ten-year-old son David (Luke David Blumm). One night, Laura wakes to a noise only to find a group of people standing in David’s room. After fleeing to call the police, she returns home to find David passed out in his bed. Concerned cop Paul (Emile Hirsch) arrives on the scene and despite his partner believing Laura dreamed the break in up, he assures her that he believes her and will help her. Soon after, David’s health begins to deteriorate rapidly, breaking out in blisters, experiencing seizures, and being overwhelmed with an unquenchable hunger. While the doctors have no explanation as to what is happening, David remarkably gets better overnight. And while Friendly Cop Paul reassures Laura that she has nothing to worry about and even makes the moves on her, Laura beings to see mysterious people around her home and David begins exhibiting the symptoms again a few days after.
I don’t want to reveal any more, but eventually we find out about Laura’s traumatic and complicated past involving a cult, a deal with the devil, and her son exhibiting signs that he may be becoming a demon. OR, and that’s a big or, all of this is just in Laura’s head as a result of deep buried trauma she experienced as a kid. While there is definitely something wrong with David, the audience isn’t made privy as to whether it is some kind of unknown medical anomaly or the result of him being the son of a demon. The whole way through I felt the film was leading to some kind of twisted twist and eventually one arises with a definite answer as to what is really happening here. I liked a lot of this film and felt as if it told an intriguing tale that blended supernatural elements, past trauma, and mental illness well. The film basically has Laura on the run with David for the latter half, with Paul and the rest of the cops one step behind her. Bodies are left in mom and son’s wake and while the film tries to keep it fuzzy, I think it shows its cards a bit too early and leans into the supernatural a bit more than it should. Then again, the Laura and David scenes are told from her perspective, so it is possible what is shown isn’t exactly the real deal. I think it gets a bit messy the longer this spree goes on and this weakens the fun back and forth of is it or isn’t it supernatural. This is the same see-saw that permeated THE CANAL, but I think that film did it better than SON, simply because the film concentrates on Laura and David for so much screen time. I understand why this occurs. The scenes of Laura and David attempting to keep things together while on the run from what may be an imaginary cult do have their moments. But once the bodies start piling up, it is clear that, cult or not, Laura is in a pretty dire situation and past the point of return, leading to a somewhat predictable ending.
One of the things about SON that didn’t work for me is that I feel the two leads, Andi Matichak and Emile Hirsch are miscast. Both are decent actors and I’ve enjoyed them in their past performances. But Hirsch is simply too small in stature to play the detective role. He’s walking around in a coat two sizes too big for him and really doesn’t sell the hardened cop role well as all. There are some scenes that really feel forced, mainly the ones where it seems he has no job other than to show up at Laura’s home when something goes wrong and the intimate moments where they seem to be forming a budding relationship. Andi Matichak is a fine actress, but for some reason, she looked and felt too glamorous to be a single mom. This is a film that revolves around the relationship between mother and son and while the music, direction, editing, and acting wanted me to feel for Laura’s plight, I just didn’t buy it. Matichak felt too young and fresh to be a woman carrying the burden of young motherhood, past trauma and abuse, and severe mental illness. Because these two main roles felt off, it was difficult to feel the overwhelming emotion SON was going for.
SON gets gory. It’s got decent performances and I think filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh has a lot of talent delivering terrifying scenes that twist expectations and warp perception. Real or not, I loved the subtle way the demon is represented as a blurry shape in the background or something stirring just out of camera range. There’s a lot to like here but this is a flawed film.
In the end, I think beyond miscasting, the choice to follow Laura and David on the run and show so much of the horrors that they encounter, experience, and leave in their wake was a mistake. It answered too many questions too early. I feel had the film left more of the Laura/David stuff a mystery and leaned for into the scenes of the cops on their trail, the mystery of is it or isn’t it supernatural would have been much more compelling. This slight shift in perspective and possibly later reveal of the exact subgenre of horror we were watching would have changed SON from good to great.