Dir. Douglas Tait (2023)
A couple who has recently miscarried twins move to a remote cabin to escape their troubles, but the cabin has a deadly past.
Making a slow-burn indie is a dangerous game. On the one hand, taking your time with the horror elements of your film can not only help to create ambience but also hide a lot of problems that may otherwise become noticeable on a film with a smaller budget. If done right, it can make an atmospheric thriller work perfectly with indie production values. On the other hand, it can also come across as painfully boring, without the elevated acting performances or sudden scenes of high art or killer score that comes along with a more mainstream production. It's a fine balance to strike, one that most films are unable to do successfully, and while today's film does a decent job of trying to strike that balance, it still winds up being just a bit too slow to be as impactful as it would like to be.
A husband and wife trying to escape their recent miscarriage of twins move to a remote cabin in the country. The wife, who reviews books for a living, finds an older book that has been left for her that her publisher claims not to know about. She begins hearing and seeing things inside the cabin, and this, combined with her decreasing health, begin to take a toll on the couple. As things begin to escalate, she is haunted by the dark history of the cabin, and the pair find themselves battling demons young and old to survive.
The performances in this film are decent: stars Isabel Cueva and Dan Thiel do a good job as the bereaved couple Val and Justin, as does Whitney Anderson as the doctor/best friend Chloe. There are a couple of nice guest stars, with The Hand That Rocks The Cradle's Rebecca De Mornay taking a turn as a bartender and Final Destination's Daniel Roebuck briefly appearing as a sheriff. The cinematography, likewise, is pretty good, with some interesting shots helping to tell this "haunted cabin" ghost story in a visually interesting way. Unfortunately, it's the inability to decide exactly what it wants to be that damages the film's appeal to its indie horror audience.
The ghost story nature of the film is interesting, though it's something that you've seen before dozens of times: couple moves into a haunted house, the ghosts wreak havoc, etc. etc. It never really leans into that, though, other than to provide some weak jumpscares and occasional blink-and-you'll-miss-it peripheral haunts. Instead, the story focuses on a love triangle between Val, her husband Justin, and her best friend Chloe. This is, surprisingly, a much more interesting angle, and it provides much of the film's tension and many of its best moments. Cueva, Thiel, and Anderson actually perform very well when its just the three of them, and each of them are believable in their roles in the aforementioned triangle. The tension is palpable, the jealousy feels real, and the culminating conflict actually resolves the storyline much better than the jammed-in ghost story could have.
The twist of the film is interesting, if a bit contrived and used just for shock value. Regardless of its quality, it at least tries to elevate the film from a standard haunted house flick to one with some decent psychological horror elements. The major problem with the film is that very little of it feels necessary. The title of the film is shared with the book left for its protagonist, but it's never mentioned again and has nothing to do with the rest of the film. Nor does, for the most part, all of the ghostly appearances that populated most of the first half of the film. It's a story in two parts, and neither part has seemingly any relation to the other. This inability (or refusal) to categorize itself feels like the film's two writers, Eliza Manzini and Rebecca Stahl, each wrote half of a completely different film and jammed them together with little to no relation between the two.
Overall, the film desperately wants to be good. Either story would have worked, but the two together simply don't. Nevertheless, Cueva is a beautiful main star, Thiel and Anderson have some real chemistry, and the cinematography alone makes the film worth watching. It feels like a much more expensive movie than it is. If only they had spent more time hashing out the script and the story at the heart of the film, they really could've had something here. Unfortunately, the jumbled nature of the movie make this one just a forgettable indie thriller with a couple of bright spots.
Who this movie is for: Indie horror fans, Slow burn horror lovers, Star-crossed lovers
Bottom line: Angel Baby struggles from the beginning to find its footing in two different worlds and suffers greatly from its inability to commit to one or the other. It's a decent ghost story and an acceptable psychological horror, but it never sells out for either story. The performances are at least adequate, however, and the cinematography helps to elevate an otherwise forgettable film into one that's still probably worth a watch. The incomplete story and lack of anything groundbreaking may be easier to take if you temper your expectations.