Ivan Kavanagh was not a director I was familiar with. He’s an Irishman and he’s got a few credits to his name that ring a bell, but I honestly didn’t really know much about him. His new film, Son, is about to drop on Shudder and I went in knowing absolutely nothing.
If you’re easily put off by gore I urge you to just avoid this one. It’s a lot, even for me.
Son follows Laura (Andi Matichek) and her son, David (Luke David Blumm). One night she walks into her son’s room and discovers him stripped of his clothing and surrounded by an eerily calm group of people. The door is slammed in her face and she’s forced to call for help, bringing the police to her door. Trouble is they can’t find any evidence of a break-in. Officer Paul (Emile Hirsch) takes a…ahem…personal interest in making sure Laura is okay, making sure she has his contact information and appearing every time she’s worried. When David falls ill and no doctor can explain it, Laura reveals she was raised in a cult and that they might be behind both the breakin and the sickness.
I’ve got a real fondness for cult films. Whether it’s Ari Aster’s Hereditary or Zal Batmanglij’s Sound of my Voice, it’s always a subject I’ve found fascinating and most of it boils down to the idea that the teachings of these groups might or might not be real in the world of the film. Cults are also built around charismatic leaders that teach delusional religious dogma and often involve themselves in sexual deviancy as part of it. Kavanagh creates a world where we can’t tell if there’s been demonic sacrifice or rape, and using that to explore the phsychology of a survivor is an idea that could be preposterous if handled improperly.
It’s a good thing he’s got Andi Matichek on his team because that girl has some star power behind her. Being able to be steadfast and vulnerable at the same time is difficult, especially when playing someone that’s repressing at least some sort of sexual trauma. She talks to demons, whispers about being followed, switches between motherly and manic at the drop of a hat, and all of it without being corny or making little of what she’s doing. The character is sweet and even shows some sexuality, which is very subdued while still feeling like a big moment for her.
She’s partnered with Emile Hirsch, who is doing his best to match what she’s throwing down. There’s some chemistry between the two, but Hirsch feels like he’s struggling and it’s a shame that he can’t match up to her ability. There’s a lot lacking in his performance that evokes a lot of pathos but more out of frustration than ability.
While that specific performance isn’t anything to write home about, it doesn’t hold the film back at all. I wasn’t expecting this to be so intensely violent, but in all my time watching horror films I rarely cringe anymore and this was a rough one for me. None of it feels played for laughs or shock value, instead just in service of the cycles of trauma that Kavanagh seems interested in playing with. None of it feels out of place, but it’s gnarly and I was having it.
Son is an interesting film, and one I liked a lot. It was enough to push me to explore the director’s back catalog in an attempt to get to know him better. Gross, grief-stricken, and gripping, I cannot recommend Son enough.
The film will stream on Shudder beginning March 5th, 2021.