Irish filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh has become something of a low-budget horror specialist over the years, winning prizes at the Dublin Film Festival for his previous films, Tin Can Man and The Fading Light. Now he returns with a new gore-filled psychological thriller, Son, that plays with parents’ sometimes understandable fear that they might be raising a devil child rather than their own.
It follows Laura (Andi Matichak), an American single mother who is first seen running away from several mysterious figures while pregnant. Several years later she’s a single mum and kindergarten teacher who calls the police after she believes she’s seen a group of strangers looming over her son David (Luke David Blum) while he sleeps. When he’s struck down by a strange bleeding disease days later, she must make sense of her own past while on the run from police officers Steve (Cranston Johnson) and Paul (Emile Hirsch). They initially don’t take her claims seriously, but become increasingly concerned when Laura appears to leave a bloody trail of bodies behind her as she attempts to save David from what she believes is a far more sinister ailment than the internal bleeding and skin ruptures that threaten his life.
Kavanagh’s skill in Son is to use the constraints and conventions of low-budget filmmaking and horror – dimly lit motel rooms, shockingly bloody but simple effects – to create a tense setup that has the viewer wondering if Laura’s fears of satanic involvement in her son’s illness are real, or a product of mental problems that are leading to violent outbursts. Its central performances, from Matichak and the young Blum, are also strong, but there is a problem in that it rather falls between two stools. For a film about a mother terrified her son is being manipulated by the devil, it’s just not quite scary enough – it sometimes plays more like a drama about a mother’s trauma and the detectives’ desire to help her. That wouldn’t be an issue if its plot twists and potential horror did not revolve around convincing viewers there might be something sinister and supernatural going on, but they are. As a result, the later, shocking twists seem less convincing as there’s an uneven focus on the protagonists’ everyday trauma, rather than the potential that something far more frightening is afoot.
If one looks backs to movies like The Omen or The Exorcist – from which Kavanagh borrows ideas – tension is built by putting fewer dramatic moments on screen, and making sure those few have an immense impact, convincing viewers to be constantly terrified of what’s lurking beneath. By spreading its gory drama widely but too thinly, Son manages to make for a diverting and intriguing 100 minutes, but it rarely thrills as much as it should.
Son is released on 8th July 2021.
Watch the trailer for Son here: