The more horror films you’ve seen, the more likely you’ll be able to enjoy Michael Melski’s “The Child Remains,” an enjoyably cheesy genre exercise that throws in so many tropes, when taken together and to the extreme, it may not put the fear of God in you, but a reminder that God works in mysterious ways. Even if there weren’t a prologue with a horrific birth where both mother and child were buried, with at least one being alive, by a Mother Superior — notably taking place in 1973, the same year as “The Exorcist,” from which this bloody bed scene was clearly inspired — you’d know there was something fishy about The Mersey Inn eventually built on top it thirty years later when Rae (Suzanne Clement) and Liam (Allan Hawco) step inside. There are clearly no other guests at the bed and breakfast in Nova Scotia and seemingly no management either as the two stand in the hallway, seemingly for an eternity, seeing the history of the place as a maternity home for unwed mothers on the walls with strange black-and-white pictures of babies born there and a creaky staircase.
Somehow, Liam once found all this charming, bringing a girlfriend there just months before, and after Mrs. Leeds (Shelley Thompson), the officious proprietor of the inn, finally arrives to inform him in private that she’s ripped the pages of that visit from the guest book, you can understand why he’s pleased with the service, even if planning a second trip there with his wife still doesn’t seem like a great idea. This is doubly true after a look at the local newspaper reveals in a headline that Rae, “Acclaimed Crime Reporter Admits Mental Illness, Seeks Treatment.” Instead of putting Rae in the care of professionals, Liam clearly thinks a few days next to the woods with “Do Not Pass” signs in front of it will be comforting, and just for good measure, creepy puppets around the house. (“Valuable antiques that carry…memories,” Mrs. Leeds tells the couple, who also note the house’s musty smell, purportedly “mildewed boxes in the basement”)
“You’re like the least gullible person I know,” Liam tells Rae, who nonetheless fails to ask him to take her home as the evidence mounts that she should get the hell out of Dodge. With $600 of Liam’s hard-earned cash already pocketed by Mrs. Leeds for the weekend — a king’s ransom for the keyboard player (“You know how many gigs that is for me?” he asks the two sneak through a barbed wire fence) – bailing isn’t an option. But as Rae begins to distrust her sense of perception, having flashbacks to the crime scenes she investigated as she wanders around the property and being two months pregnant, things you know from the jittery camera moves and shots that go in and out of focus, she is clearly losing her way even if she never winds up leaving the B & B.
With Mrs. Leeds’ mind clearly gone, Liam’s not completely there to begin with and Rae desperately clinging on to what’s left of hers, “The Child Remains” gets kookier and kookier, but the actors on hand appear to know well the film they’re making, which makes all of the difference. The poised Clement, who withstood many a tirade in Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy,” gives Rae as much gravitas as she can muster and while Melski’s aggressive style leaves little room for nuance, the film continues to engage because of her grounded performance – as well as just how psycho the film itself will go. The answer is far enough to want to watch around midnight.