It All Happens In The Dark

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Oh, baby!

First Born (2007)

When I wrote my review for Piranha 3D I said that I’d love to see Elisabeth Shue in more genre work – well, my wish was granted before I even made it! How is that for some instant gratification? And Mrs. Shue has a leading role!

This could almost be a Rosemary’s Baby remake. We have all the same elements – woman getting pregnant, woman moving, woman cutting her hair really short, woman becoming paranoid, woman believing outside forces are influencing the life and fate of her and her baby, woman running around in her nightie with a butcher knife. Think Rosemary’s Baby without the witches, and you have something akin to First Born.

This film was released with no fanfare and seems to have gotten generally awful reviews. I was expecting something really unwatchable, and I was rather surprised when it was quite the opposite. I’m not sure why so many people trashed this movie – is it because it really has no fresh elements of its own and that it cribs (ha, ha) almost everything so liberally from other sources? Well, name me a movie that doesn’t do that these days. This is one of those GROWN-UP thrillers, where the threat is more psychological and there is next to no blood.

The tag line is “Beware the baby” but a more fitting one would have been “Beware the baby… doll!” This is not an evil baby movie, it is a mommy-goes-crazy movie.

Elisabeth Shue plays Laura, a dancer, who lives with her husband in the city and becomes pregnant. This leads to the buying of a new house, which the current owners are DYING and desperate to get rid of – CHEAP is the name of the game – first warning sign, no? The baby comes and Elisabeth Shue begins experiencing some awful Brooke Shields level postpartum depression. There is also the problem of these mice that seem to have overrun the house… when the exterminator comes to take care of it, he finds a diary hidden in the basement. The pages are all blank. Yet, later in the film, they somehow fill themselves in.

The clerk in the local supermarket tells Elisabeth Shue that she used to be friends with the girl who formerly lived in the house, until the girl moved away to go to NYU and no one has spoken to her since.  And this doll… the day it was suggested that Elisabeth Shue may be pregnant, she took a ride on the subway and spotted a young girl with a baby. When the girl got off the subway, she left the baby behind, and Elisabeth Shue going to investigate, found it was just a plastic doll wrapped up in a blanket. And for some reason she decided to keep it. The family dog, however, thought she should not have, and he drags it into the woods, before meeting his untimely fate.

The husband hires a nanny to help Elisabeth out, and the nanny who seems to be of Romanian descent, can tell that Elisabeth isn’t happy. The nanny speaks of how miserable she was when she had her first baby, and how she often had thoughts of death. When she spoke to her mother about, her mother wondered if she had been cursed. The nanny goes on to say that when a mother has a baby, the mother is cut in two pieces, one piece is the baby and one is the mother. Sometimes the baby takes too much and the baby steals the mother’s soul and the mother begins to die. The nanny says she went to someone who was known as a person who could remove curses and the nanny says she got her soul back.

So Elisabeth, looking for a how-to-get-your-soul-back-and-remove-curses primer, heads to the bookstore. She gets a book on witchcraft and inside finds a picture of mice, with a caption that says they are often the familiars, demon spirits that take on the form of vermin to aid a witch. And she also finds a picture of a doll that looks just like the one she rescued from the subway and has in the house again. (She saw the doll in the woods after the dog hid it, and going to retrieve it, her water broke.) So what is going on? Is the doll cursed? Is someone putting the voojoo on her?

The ending is by no means explicit, but is starling and disturbing. It is not a surprising outcome as the film gives us several visual clues that this is where it is heading, but it is a rather bold denouement and maybe that contributes to why this film isn’t really popular or well-liked – it is hard to say one “enjoyed” a film like this.

From a technical standpoint this is very well made. Elisabeth Shue totally delivers and this film wouldn’t have had half as much impact without her.

This one sure doesn’t spell everything out and and there are several ways it can be interpreted. I love endings like that. This is so different from films that are just too lazy to do the work – this film expertly sets up its conclusion and is able to support several different theories because it is done so well. The writer and director Isaac Webb, has not made another film yet, but based on this offering, I’d be very interested in seeing what else he is capable of. B-


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