Brandon Christensen’s Still/Born began with a simple set of images: a woman giving birth to twins, a look from the nurse as the second twin emerges into the world, and the same woman standing between two cribs…one of which is empty.
He was just finishing up his work as producer on Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red. It was a grueling shoot in the desert, and as the two were discussing possibilities for Christensen’s first feature in the director’s chair, they decided that the Blumhouse method might be the best route.
So, setting aside the image he had in his mind, the two began to scour scripts that offered minimal sets, a small cast, and atmospheric tension, but nothing seemed to fit the bill. Before long, they returned to Christensen’s idea, and this time they realized they were really onto something.
“I started building around that idea of a woman who is dealing with loss,” Christensen says. “That led us down this rabbit hole of postpartum depression and psychosis, and we learned a lot about how these things affect new mothers.”
With the addition of a supernatural element in the guise of a Mesopotamian demon by the name of Lamashtu who steals babies to feast on their flesh, the two men knew they had hit upon a subject that exactly fit what they wanted to make.
“We’re dealing with a main character whose inner thoughts are where we are living and breathing,” he says. “She thinks one thing is happening and then she thinks it’s something else, but she’s never sure so we, as an audience, are never sure until it’s too late to turn back.”
With a finished script, they’d soon cast Christie Burke as the young mother in question, and were headed to Christensen’s home town, Calgary, to begin filming. When they arrived, however, they found that the house they’d rented for the shoot had been sold out from under them.
Scrambling to find another location led them to the director’s family home where he’d planned to stay during filming.
In the end, he, Burke, Minihan, and another of the film’s producers ended up actually living on the set while filming.
“It was kind of a Jack [Nicholson] in The Shining moment,” Christensen laughs. “I woke up on set every day and I went to bed every night on set. I didn’t have a car so there was really no escape.”
It might not have been the ideal situation, but the director has high praise for his crew and especially for his lead actress.
“The first six days of shooting were just her [Christie] and the baby, and a lot of the horror stuff happens while she’s alone,” he says. “She went through a huge gauntlet of emotions in those first few days especially, but she was amazing and pushed right through it.”
The film relies heavily on Burke. In many ways, if she hadn’t worked then the film itself wouldn’t have worked.
Luckily, the proved she was up to the task. Her performance is a lesson in the strength of a mother in the face of a threat to her child.
As filming came to a close, Christensen had time to reflect on the things he’d learned from his first time directing a feature film, and he definitely feels he learned a couple of valuable lessons in the process.
“There were times when I was focused on the wrong thing and it would bleed into a scene and I regret that now, but it’s like trying to sprint a marathon,” he points out. “In the end I learned to focus on story and performance first. If you do that, then a lot of other things will just fall into place.”
Still/Born will be given a limited release on February 9, 2018 and will be available on VOD on the same day. Check out the trailer below!