“The Child Remains” is a film that feels as if it took every contrived and derivative convention in both drama and horror and threw them all at a wall to see what stuck. Spoiler: None of them do. To say the film is formulaic would be an understatement — it doesn’t even seem to have an understanding of a formula to adhere to, though it tries.
The film follows an estranged husband and pregnant wife, Liam (Allan Hawco) and Rae (Suzanne Clément), on a vacation to a maternity home turned bed-and-breakfast. The latter of the pair suffers from an initially vague condition that is later revealed to be post-traumatic stress disorder, contracted as a result of her work as an investigative reporter. The PTSD acts as what could be an interesting bridge between her former life and how it interacts with where she is in her present. Her condition manifests in invasive flashbacks to a gruesome crime scene featuring a bloodied infant, assumed to be her last case as a reporter.
But rather than situating the story in plausibility, the oversaturation of the motherhood motif creates an insurmountable demand for the viewer to suspend disbelief. Rae’s nightmares of infanticide are impossible to differentiate from the grim flashbacks of the history of the bed-and-breakfast. Is Rae clairvoyant or not? It’s a constantly raised question that the film doesn’t seem to know the answer to.
All of these things, if not incredibly heavy-handed, have the potential to make for an interesting story — if only they had been substantiated by the cast members’ performances. The only saving grace in that regard is that of Shelley Thompson as the bed-and-breakfast owner, Monica, who is able to masterfully straddle the line between eccentric and eerie. The film fails whenever it attempts to make itself too neat, never giving viewers an opportunity to try to come to their own conclusions. The owner is immediately suspect, as is every character Rae interacts with in the remote town surrounding the bed-and-breakfast. Rather than offering any chance to speculate on the horrors that befall the couple, the film makes the audience suffer through the oversimplified goings-on. It grows tedious very quickly.
On top of this, much of the early suspense of the film is completely removed from the film’s protagonists — things go bump in the night with no one to hear them. The scares are neither effective nor surprising.
It feels as though “The Child Remains” is a string of non sequiturs. Before the mysteries of the house even reveal themselves, there is an inherent distrust between the couple and the innkeeper. As a result, when the story does pick up speed as Rae searches for the truth behind the couple’s not-so-quaint getaway, the action feels unsubstantiated by any logic or reason. Every character’s actions are tied up in a confusing web of completely unmotivated turns of plot.
One moment, Rae is surrounded by the remains of murdered babies, with little reaction other than heavy breathing and a furrowed brow. The next, Liam is repeatedly playing back a mysterious audio recording of white noise that mingles with the sounds of his own infidelity. And not long after Liam begs his pregnant wife not to search for answers, for fear of aggravating her PTSD, he is being possessed by unknown malignant forces that force him to violently berate his wife for exactly this affliction. The oscillations between the real and surreal are so absurd that it becomes comical to watch.
The film becomes a hodgepodge of nonsense, and rather than hoping for the pair’s escape from their grisly vacation, the audience itself may be left wanting to escape the story.