The Child Remains has about as disturbing an opening scene as you’re likely to find.

A young woman (Lesley Smith) is screaming as she gives birth on a dark and stormy night in 1973 at the Mercy Home, a retreat for unwed mothers. Her baby is taken from her and out into the woods in a little wooden box where a man is digging a grave. The women who run the home tell her the baby didn’t make it, even though she can hear it crying as it’s taken away. They begin praying over her and it seems like maybe they’re going to kill her too.

4 stars

All of this happens before the opening credits, and while burying babies alive is disturbing subject matter, the scene is even more disturbing when you consider this movie is inspired by true events. The Ideal Maternity Home in East Chester, Nova Scotia, operated from the 1920s through 1940s, boarding unwed pregnant women and taking their babies, which were then sold, sometimes to prominent families in large cities. Babies who were sick or mixed race could not be sold and were often buried alive out in the woods. The tragedy of these Butterbox Babies is a real life Canadian horror story that director Michael Melski has used as the chilling backdrop for this fictional tale.

Flashing forward many years, we see that the Mercy Home has become the Mersey Inn. Rae (Suzanne Clément) is a renowned crime journalist suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Her husband Liam (Allan Hawco) whisks her away for her birthday weekend and they pull up to the quaint, secluded bed and breakfast. They are met by Monica (Shelley Thompson), the warm but somewhat strange innkeeper. From their first interaction, there is the vaguely uneasy feeling that something isn’t right.

While horror movies can sometimes get by on atmosphere, loud noises and unexpected things jumping out of the shadows, excellent horror movies are elevated by the acting. If the characters are believable and make us feel that the danger is real, we are drawn into the story no matter how strange it gets. The three lead actors in The Child Remains do this very well. Suzanne Clément plays a tough character experiencing a vulnerable time in her life, so she is constantly questioning her own experiences. Allan Hawco brings a depth to his character that you just don’t expect in a horror movie – watch his reaction early on when he’s asked about a credit card. And Shelley Thompson, best known for playing Barb Lahey on Trailer Park Boys, steals the show. Her outwardly friendly, busybody innkeeper has just the right hint of lunacy behind the broad smile.

Perhaps what’s most impressive about The Child Remains is Melski’s use of a variety of horror movie tropes without seeming derivative. You’ll find the haunted house, the spooky doll, the spooky child, disturbing religious fervor, ghosts (possibly?), a character’s descent into madness, the spooky peripheral character uttering dire warnings, and I may be forgetting a few others. But it works very well. It’s like the director is dealing a deck of cards and laying out each of these elements at exactly the right time.

There are also a few things in The Child Remains that I’ve never seen in a horror movie. For example, there is an explanation of haunted houses that is so simple and makes so much sense, I can’t believe I’ve never heard it before.

There were certain aspects of the plot that I figured out way before the end, but when your hunch turns out to be right, that’s half the fun of watching a horror movie, right?

 

Title The Child Remains
Director Michael Melski
Writers Michael Melski
Runtime 107 minutes
Starring Suzanne Clément, Allan Hawco, Shelley Thompson
Production Malefic Films
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