– Irish prodigy Ivan Kavanagh delights audiences with this explosive horror which amplifies the angst-inducing ambiguity of reality
Andi Matichak and Luke David Bloom in Son
Following its premiere at the Dublin Film Festival (on home ground), Ivan Kavanagh’s Son [+see also:
film profile] (co-produced by Ireland, the USA and the UK) is invading the screens of the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF)’s International Competition, offering up a gruesome story which sees the innocence of childhood transformed into a blood-soaked battle for survival. How far would a parent go to protect their own child? And would that change if that same child were to transform into an evil, blood-thirsty being? Ivan Kavanagh urges the audience to contend with the darker side of childhood, but also with the consequences of traumatic events which leave unhealable, psyhological wounds.
Having escaped from the sect which had held her captive for years, Laura (Andi Matichak) believes she has managed to rebuild a life for herself and for her son David (Like David Bloom) in the tranquil and seemingly innocuous suburbs of an unspecified American city. Doubts linger, however, over the mental health of this single mother who claims to have seen strangers hanging around her son’s bed. A few days later, David falls victim to a terrible, mysterious illness which sees him kept under observation in hospital. Is there a link between the strangers in David’s bedroom and his sudden sickly condition? What should she make of the physical signs of this illness which seems intimately linked to matters of the mind, or even to supernatural causes? Laura sets out on a desperate journey in search of answers to these distressing questions, which she knows are linked to a past which she doesn’t want – or perhaps is unable – to confront. Are the demonic forces which seem to have taken hold of David a product of her imagination or are they the real consequences of a dangerous game with the forces of evil? Laura and David sow gory devastation and spill litres of haemoglobins in their wake, clear warning signs of his slide from childhood naivety to monstruous cannibalism.
Offering up a decidedly effective mix of carnage and suspense, Son sees Ivan Kavanagh revisiting the horror genre which he previously tried his hand at with The Canal (2014). References to masterpieces such as Rosemary’s Baby or the internal and nigh-on “biological” horror of David Cronenberg, don’t detract at all from this film which is both coherent and incisive as a whole, and which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. The opening scene where a barefoot, pregnant woman (Laura) covered in mud is fleeing in a car, chased by two faceless men, is especially impactful. But the most destabilising scene is that of David’s birth, which shows us his mother labouring alone in the car and which is, at times, unbearable, forcing us to look the indomitable, animal side of humanity straight in the eye. The director paints an alternative and unsettling picture of motherhood, which goes beyond stereotypical notions of an innate and immutable “maternal instinct”. Laura is put to the test and must face up to the limits of a bond which changes from humane and profound to evil complicity. Is her son physically expressing the traumas of a past which she herself is unable to reconstruct, or does she have a veritable diabolic transformation on her hands? It’s difficult to say, and it’s precisely this ambiguity which makes of Son an intriguing film, promising exhilarating spikes of adrenaline.
(Translated from Italian)