Since the Manson Family murders shocked a nation in the late 1960s, cults have peaked the public’s curiosity and fear. At any given time, Netflix has at least one documentary on cults available to stream. Recent stories of the Nxivm sex cult crept into the headline over the last couple of years. Both horror movies and psychological thrillers have also exploited this public interest. Not surprisingly, the Manson Family has inspired several movies including the 1970’s exploitation flick, I Drink Your Blood, and the more recent, abysmal The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Even in the last several years, Midsommar, The Invitation, The Babysitter, Apostle, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, to name a few, have frightened audiences with their warnings of dangerous cults. Now Irish-filmmaker Ivan Kavanagh (The Canal) gives us his take on the cult, Son.
As a child, Laura grew up trapped in cult run by her own father. Years later she escaped with her infant son, David, and built a new life. But late one evening, Laura’s past comes back to haunt her when she finds her father’s cult members in David’s room. Though she save her now eight-year-old son, police find no evidence of anyone attempting to abduct him. Later David succumbs to a mysterious illness with no answers from doctors. Now Laura increasingly believes that her father’s cult has a reach on her she never imagined. Uncertain as to whom she can trust, Laura takes David from the hospital and sets off on the road hoping to save him from the life she once endured.
Son Recruits Early Scares But Strays Off The Path
With his 2014 release, The Canal, writer and director Ivan Kavanagh crafted a genuinely atmospheric thriller. Here, in Son, Kavanagh demonstrates the same penchant for unsettling scares. Several early scenes manage to catch you off guard. What’s more impressive is Kavanagh’s reliance on mood rather than leaning on jump scares. Some of Son’s more haunting images will linger. And the scenes where David satisfies his ‘growing hunger’ boast some decent shocks. They also serve as a reminder as to what filmmakers can do on smaller budgets.
Here, in Son, Kavanagh demonstrates the same penchant for unsettling scares.
Yet Son never fully follows through on its early promise. Some of the issues are with the movie’s pacing. This is likely a movie that could have trimmed some scenes to keep the story tighter. As the movie hits the middle act, much the early tension faces. Kavanagh still delivers a chilling hotel room scene where mother and son lure a new victim. However, Son also suffers from some familiarity and a story that tries to do too much. Too many of the story’s beats recall other cult-based thrillers. Moreover, Kavanagh’s efforts to mislead audiences with his ‘is she or isn’t she delusional’ narrative is a well-used trope. While it delivers some ambiguity, the movie’s twists aren’t entirely satisfactory.
Mother-Son Relationship and Winning Performances Give Son an Emotional Core
If Son plays as an above-average psychological thriller, Kavanagh’s scripted mother-son relationship goes a long ways towards elevating things. Undoubtedly, some viewers will find the cult angle alongside the blurred reality in the story to bee familiar. As mentioned above, Kavanagh mostly executes these ideas quite well. But Laura’s relationship with her, son, David, adds an essential core to the story. Even as the movie dabbles in the potentially supernatural – and some plot contrivances – the mother-son relationship always feels real. This is due in no small part to Andi Matichak’s (Halloween 2018) solid, believable performance. She sells the movie’s ambiguity in spite of its familiarity. As far as child performances, Luke David Blumm stuns here in Son.
Moreover, Hirsch’s limited role hurts the thriller’s final twist.
On the supporting side, Son doesn’t demand much from the cast. Without a doubt, Emile Hirsch (The Autopsy of Jane Doe) is a talented actor. Too bad Son gives him very little to do. As ‘Detective Paul’, Hirsch has the thankless task of playing the conflicted love interest and general source of exposition. Kavanagh’s script limits Hirsch’s screen time and one has to wonder if the actor became disinterested with the role. At times, Hirsch comes off flat, which starkly contrasts with his past work. Moreover, Hirsch’s limited role hurts the thriller’s final twist. What Son gives us a convoluted twist made more improbable by using a character who played a diminished role for the most of the story.
Son a Solid, If Familiar, Thriller
Though Son comes out of the gate strong, it loses some of that momentum as the story unfolds. Arguably, Son doesn’t have quite enough story to fills it runtime. And there’s an air of familiarity to the movie’s twisting narrative. Regardless Son still offers plenty to like for horror fans. Kavanagh delivers some excellent jolts early on alongside a creepy atmosphere. He also uses gore sparingly but to great effect. If Hirsch is merely passable, Matichak proves again that she has the chops for the genre. What Son inevitably offers is a well-produced, intermittently creep, if not forgettable, horror outing.