BLOOD CHILD **** USA / Canada 2017 Dir: Jennifer Phillips. 93 mins
Despite opening with the cliched “based on true events” on-screen caption, there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface of writer-director Jennifer Phillips’ feature debut than you’d expect. Almost a year after suffering a miscarriage in Singapore, Alyx Melone’s Minnesota home is clearly host to a sinister presence: friends and family are unsettled by candy wrappers on the floor and the pervasive smell of rotting meat, while Melone can be heard talking to the daughter who never lived.
Flashbacks convey how, in her grief-wracked state, she resorted to East Asian magics, with help from Siti (Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie), the Indonesian native employed as her housekeeper in America. Initially the familiar jump scares of Siti repeatedly appearing from nowhere to startle someone feel like cheap shots – though they highlight the film’s condemnation of casual racism in Trump-era U.S.A. Siti is routinely patronised, as characters slate her failure to understand “the nuances of our language” and dismiss Singapore as “a third world country”. Elsewhere, the heroine’s husband, representing male unease at domesticity and monogamy, is portrayed as an asshole easily tempted into infidelity and, with his work friends, prone to displaying sexist attitudes in front of women. Melone herself pays the price of exploiting another culture’s traditions and beliefs in order to make herself feel better about losing someone dear. It’s a smart and timely movie – and also genuinely creepy, with potent frights involving the dead little girl and effectively eerie use of the OMEN-inspired concept of psychic photographs. Clichés creep in (the old AMERICAN WEREWOLF nightmare-within-a-nightmare double shock) and the twist is over-familiar, but the execution is thoughtful and chilling.
Review by Steven West