New Horror Releases: The Child Remains (2019) - Reviewed

The Child Remains is a fictional account of the aftermath of the true crimes committed in The Ideal Maternity House in Nova Scotia and chronicled in the book The Butterbox Babies.  Between the years of 1928-1945, the Youngs (who owned and operated The Ideal Maternity House) were responsible for taking advantage of unwed mothers, and parents who desperately wanted to adopt, but laws involving age and religion had prevented them in the US. The Youngs charged upwards of $10,000 to couples for ideal babies. This meant that “unadoptable” babies (usually ones with physical handicaps or were of mixed race) were neglected and starved to death.  Some of the mothers were told their baby had died at birth, but, the baby had been secretly sold to another couple.  

In this imaginative ghost story, investigative journalist, Rae (played by Suzanne Clement) and her husband, Liam (Allan Hawco) are on a much-needed vacation at the secluded inn, Mersey House.  Rae feels unsettled and she begins having visions and hearing voices, believing it to have something to do with past events of the house, and that somehow, she is connected to it. Meanwhile the mysterious owner, Monica (Shelley Thompson) and the guilty acting groundskeeper (Geza Kovacs) don’t help quell Rae’s paranoia. Eventually, she learns that the house was once a home for unwed mothers. 

In its heyday, the Mercy Maternity Home was an alternative hospital where newborns were essentially sold based on their genetics, and sadly in some cases where adoption wasn’t thought possible, killed after birth.  The Home was constantly under investigation for unusually high infant mortality rates, and eventually closed when the original owner died, and the Home was turned into a hotel. Though Liam questions her sanity, Rae is correct in her feelings that sinister events have occurred at Mersey House, and the scars of these events ripple throughout the house and take control of both of them.  Rea begins to uncover more and more startling discoveries….

Like in any good haunted house movie, the Mersey House is a character in and of itself.  The set decoration is unsettling; baroque d├ęcor and low-lit, shadowy antique laden rooms, full of creepy dolls and puppets, and Liam seems to communicate with some sort of glowing ominous apparatus. The scenes inside Mersey House are shot in way to create a sense of confusion as to how the house is set up, making it appear labyrinthine and as mysterious as its owner, and of course, Rea finds all the sick stuff hidden in the basement. 

Rae suffers from claustrophobia and this is noted throughout the movie through dialogue, but it is also shown through tight shots from Rae’s point of view of the people talking to her and her surroundings that tend to give the viewer the same sense of closeness that one could imagine is similar to what Rae is likely experiencing.  It is easy to feel empathy for her because of that, but also thanks to the performance of Suzanne Clement (who had previous won Best Actress at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for her role in Laurence Anyways).  She can portray a sense of vulnerability (battling mental health issues) without appearing weak or unsure of herself, nor unbelievably unflappable. 

Set in a secluded and eerie old house, with owners of questionable intentions, this movie succeeds in the vein of many other haunted house movies of the past.  A psychological study, The Child Remains shows how past trauma and poor communication can transcend generations and ruin relationships.  Though the moodiness and suspense of the drama unfolding worked, the film brings nothing new to the subgenre. The movie is full of creepy sounds, eerie visuals, and includes a sick baby killing scene that will surely leave you screaming.  If you like The Shining, The Changeling or Burnt Offerings, you will probably like this movie, too.  Full of suspense and drama, I found myself yelling at the screen as I watched this one, and when it ended, I had to find out more about the true crime case it’s based on. I was glad to learn that there is a 1995 Canadian movie based on the book- it’s next on my “to watch” list.

--Mara Powell