By: Trevor Chartrand
Is it bad when the true-story version of a film sounds more entertaining than the fictionalized narrative we get instead? That may be the case with The Child Remains, a film loosely inspired by the Butterbox Baby murders in WWII-Era Nova Scotia.
There’s something so visceral and haunting about ‘true horror’ stories and their depiction of the darkest chapters of human history. Movies like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity market themselves as authentic found-footage films – since their stories become scarier if they just might be real. With The Child Remains, however, the filmmakers went the opposite way; they couldn’t help but introduce hokey supernatural plot points to an already chilling true premise: a bizarre child-killing maternity house.
Since the film abandons reality to be a supernatural thriller, we’ll consider it as such. Looking through the proper lens, The Child Remains is a fairly well-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns, even if logic is left far behind by the time the end credits roll. The film tells the story of a PTSD-suffering journalist named Rae (Suzanne Clément), who travels with her fiancé (Allan Hawco) to a small town bed and breakfast – an effort to “get away from it all” and recover from the horrors she’s seen reporting abroad. She quickly discovers she’s picked the wrong hotel, however, when she discovers the home’s disturbing history and begins to suspect the innkeeper Monica (Shelley Thompson) has malicious intentions for her and her unborn baby.
The best thing The Child Remains has going for it is its pacing, without a doubt. The premise begins grounded and believable enough, building slowly so that by the time things begin to get more and more absurd, it’s still (mostly) possible to suspend disbelief. The film truly takes it’s time to build a creepy atmosphere, and that’s great. The final moments, however, do take things a bit too far – it seems the filmmakers got greedy with one twist too many – to the point where the plot becomes, well, just too silly.
The film is fairly standard in the way it’s shot and written, with plenty of horror tropes and clichés throughout. Regarding the look of the The Child Remains, there’s a lot of ‘the killer’s POV’ shots, and some of them don’t make a whole lot of sense. The film’s teaser prominently features this technique, for example, as the camera-person appears to attack the inn’s caretaker over forty years ago. Cut to title card. Later on, in present day, we learn the caretaker is still alive and well. So what was the purpose of the shaky-cam-push-in, I wonder? We never learn who or what was attacking the groundskeeper. The POV shot appears to be an sloppy, unjustified excuse just to transition away from the scene.
The cast is strong overall, but Suzanne Clément stands out especially as Rae, the troubled journalist. Despite the character’s traumatic past, there’s a detective mindset that never shuts down, and it’s clear behind her eyes that she’s always analyzing throughout the film. Clément’s character also effectively justifies the horror trope of a person investigating unsafe situations rather than running away – it’s in Rae’s journalistic nature to seek out the truth.
As the villainous innkeeper, Shelley Thompson hams up her role big time, especially with the duality of her character. When she’s playing the role of the friendly innkeeper, the sinister undertones are painfully obvious, to the point where there is no denying she has a dark side. There’s no subtlety or mystery to the performance at all. When it is ultimately (unsurprisingly) revealed that’s she is in fact a villain, she doesn’t have the intimidating chops to be taken seriously. In other words – when she’s trying to play it straight, she’s too villainous, and when she’s trying to intimidate, she winds up chewing scenery like no one’s business.
So in the end, what remains to be said about The Child Remains? As far as horror movies go, this is a solid effort and certainly a competently-made film. However, even with a well-paced script and interesting characters, the film fails to keep things grounded, venturing too far from believability by the third act. Unfortunately, despite its fresh premise, The Child Remains doesn’t have much to offer that horror fans haven’t already seen.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor