There’s something purely primal about how far a parent will go to protect their child, which is probably why it’s such a commonly explored theme in horror. Ivan Kavanagh’s Son is the newest addition to that school of filmmaking. The film follows Laura (Andi Matichka – the Halloween franchise) as she attempts to protect her son from the cult she escaped from eight years prior. Laura comes to believe that the cult have broken into her home to give her son David (Luke David Blumm –The King of Staten Island) a deadly illness. However, there may be something much more sinister than she imagined at play.
Son finds itself jumping between tones quite regularly, rarely settling comfortably into one mode. Scenes range from brutal home invasions and satanic cult offerings to happy families and road movie sequences. In the first fifteen minutes alone you’ll be treated to a fast-paced chase, childbirth in a passenger seat, a happy family montage, and some home-invading cult members. Son’s pacing jumps from lightspeed to snail pace depending on whether Kavanagh wants us on our toes or is giving us a bit of time with the characters he’s created. This time is used well, allowing the audience to breathe a little bit whilst getting a better insight into Laura’s traumatic past – although the film can drag a bit towards the end of the second act. The varied pacing also lures you into a sense of false security, as Kavanagh is not afraid to pull the rug out from beneath a slow scene to give the audience a good scare. These pacing jumps are complements to the film’s constantly twisting plot. Some of the revelations may be easy to spot for more seasoned horror fans, but there are enough unexpected twists and turns to keep you paying attention.
Immediately setting Son apart from the swarm of new horror films is its cinematography and sound design. They’re both simply brilliant. The cinematography reflects the bleakness of Laura and David’s situation in each frame after the twenty-minute mark. They throw out the acoustic guitars and smiling montages and bring in scenes that look so dirty you’ll want to try and wipe your screen. Each shot breathes empty desperation, with clever set design that litters subtle satanic imagery into plenty of sequences to point your mind in the right direction. When this is combined with the sound design, which utilises silence as effectively as John Williams can use an orchestra, the audience is able to feel every second of Laura’s ever-growing paranoia. These soundscapes find several opportunities to make you jump out of your skin without having to resort to cheap jump-scares. Add the chilling sounds and practical effects used to highlight David’s illness, with some sonic choices being reminiscent of The Fly, and you’ll undoubtedly be immersed into David’s sickly existence.
Son is certainly presented in an extremely attractive package. Unfortunately, the further into it you dig, the more you realise that it suffers from a case of style over substance. The top-notch presentation is not enough to forgive it for a flabby, trope-filled script. Every five minutes it feels like someone is saying “you have no idea what they’re capable of” or “come closer”. Mental institutions are used as reveals, the police don’t believe Laura, and there’s a chosen one somewhere in the mix. It’s not that this is bad – there are certainly much worse films that tread around this territory – but Son doesn’t bring enough to the table to take its script beyond that of a run-of-the-mill horror/revenge thriller.
The most overused trope, by quite a stretch, is the old “is everything real or imaginary?”. You know the one – chances are you’ve seen it get used in at least four long-running science fiction series. However, Son does manage to use it well enough for it to feel fresh. This isn’t really because the script brings anything new to the table, but because Andi Matichak’s performance of a wildly frantic mother trying to keep it together for the sake of her child elevates that trope and puts a worthwhile performance behind it. Protecting a child that may be the harbinger of doom, even if it is your own child, is a difficult decision to justify. Nonetheless, Matichak’s performance, which expertly switches from calm and collected to cool-headed terror, allows the audience to understand that decision better.
The entire cast gives strong performances. Emile Hirsch has ample opportunity to show off his more subdued acting chops with his “good cop” character Paul, whilst also getting to chew every piece of scenery in sight later. It’s a delightful juxtaposition to watch. Son even manages to pull of great casting with its child lead Luke David Blumm. Child actors in horror tend to over-egg it a bit, but Blumm brings a much more subdued quality to the job, demonstrating acting instinct way beyond his years. Son has a small ensemble cast, so it was essential that they all gelled together and brought equally strong performances. Fortunately, they achieved this in spades.
The core story and writing of Son may not be the most ground-breaking or engaging. Ultimately, it’s a little bit of Don’t Breathe with aspects of Rosemary’s Baby and Hereditary thrown in for good measure, with each of its influences doing it better. However, it is still well worth your time for its cinematography and performances alone.