Mommy Issues Haunt 'The Child Remains'

The Child Remains
(Canada, 107 min.)
Written and directed by Michael Melski
Starring: Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson
Allan Hawco and Suzanne Clément in The Child Remains
Suzanne Clément checks into the East Coast branch of the Bates’ Motel in The Child Remains. The Mommy star encounters mommy issues at a creepy B&B in Nova Scotia, but they’re more of the Gus Van Sant variety than the Alfred Hitchcock pedigree. Despite an eerie setting and an earnest attempt to provide old-school horror on a shoestring budget, The Child Remains struggles to chill. Yelp reviews are often more terrifying.

This disappointing horror flick is likely to find forgiveness from hardcore genre fans and devotees of the East Coast scene. The Child Remains draws upon true events, dubbed the “Butterbox Babies,” in which countless infants and their unwed mothers died at the hands of religious quacks in the ironically named Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia. The surviving babies, the story goes, were sold to wealthy families around the world. The Child Remains picks up the most sinister elements of the grisly tale and uses allegedly haunted inns and bed and breakfasts in Nova Scotia to add to the spooky setting. 

The film opens the door to the Mersey Inn as Clément’s character Rae goes away for a romantic, if bizarre, birthday weekend with her husband, Liam (Allan Hawco). What romance Rae and Liam expect to find at this creepy isolated getaway isn't clear. Walks in the desolate woods, trips to the local library, and awkward dinners with the innkeeper, Monica (Shelley Thompson), hint at an ill-conceived premise. The trip serves double duty to help Rae overcome the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder she suffers from her work as a crime reporter, but the cause of her despair is as elusive as the destination for the romantic getaway. Rae is also pregnant, so hormones, fears for her baby, and a connection to the mothers that haunt the inn naturally inspire her to continue her stay when every signal tells her to steal the towels, pack her bags, and run.

Rae’s distress makes things go bump in the night as the sounds and smells of Mersey Inn envelope Rae and Liam in the home’s sinister backstory. Once Rae’s journalistic impulses kick in, Monica offers Mersey’s history as a maternity home run by her late mother, a distant kin of Mrs. Bates while Thompson plays Monica with a Norman-esque wide-eyed primness. Grisly cutaways to bloody shoes and hands in trees offer tidbits of Rae’s trauma, while her nightmares and hallucinations at the inn cross path with visions of babies smashed to death on the bedroom doors. Many unanswered questions struggle to justify the gruesomely inefficient infanticide at the inn and all the nasty CSI-style flickers of Rae's memory bank as the perils of motherhood haunt her.

Spooky dolls, bad CGI babies, and icy blue filters situate The Child Remains in the realm of horror flicks like The Changeling and Annabelle, but director Michael Melski (Perfume War) proves more successful with tricks don’t betray the film’s limited budget. Blocking, composition, and nifty sound design provide stronger tension than the story, effects, and performances do, although the film has a surprise twist that audiences won’t see coming--and, sadly, might not appreciate when the final act spirals into nonsensical supernatural elements driven by unconvincing special effects and some preposterous story turns.  The ghostly dead moms and rotting evil babies of the climax are true Canadian cheese.

Thompson complements said cheese by enjoyably growing hammier as the story becomes loonier, while cult horror staple Géza Kovacs has the cliché spooky gardener role down pat, and Hawco is well-cast as the dull Liam. Rae, unfortunately, is not Clément’s best work. Clément, one of the finest actors in Canada today, is unexpectedly brittle here playing Rae like a clipped, joyless sourpuss. If Clément’s aim is to make Rae unlikable, then she succeeds, but a bit too much since one can only cheer for the demonic rotting babies by the end.

The Child Remains opens in Toronto at the Canada Square on May 18.