Written and directed by Singapore-born Jennifer Phillips, 2017’s Blood Child is a creepy supernatural thriller that also acts as chronicle of casual racism and quotidian white supremacy, as well as a potent warning of the dangers of cultural appropriation.
When Ashley (Alyx Melone) miscarries during a first pregnancy, she finds herself unable to let go. Her extraordinary grief envelopes her in a deep depression. Unbeknownst to her husband, Bill (Biden Hall), she coerces Siti (Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie), her reluctant Indonesian maid, to take her to a practitioner of magic who can bind her dead child’s ghost to her. When she becomes pregnant again, her first-(un)born child expresses her jealousy in increasingly horrifying ways. As Ashley’s pregnancy progresses, her friends and family are pulled into the vortex of a terrifying toddler tantrum, with deadly results.
What I found interesting about this film is its politics, particularly its indictment of white supremacy and recognition of white privilege. Siti is treated with mean-spirited disrespect by basically every character in the film. (As a result, none of the white characters are especially sympathetic, which does have consequences when it comes to emotional investment in their well-being.) The film doesn’t treat the characters as violent, racist caricatures, but captures a realistically casual bigotry pervasive in society — neighbour Naomi is both a supportive and caring friend to Ashley and remorselessly ugly to Siti, something that Ashley barely addresses despite her reliance on Siti. At one point, Ashley’s mother refers to Singapore as a “third world country”. The film also shines on light on misogyny. Bill’s friends disrespect his marriage and encourage him to cheat, something that he is entirely willing to do. I found myself hoping that they would be pulled into the Blood Child’s maelstrom of vengeance.
There are a few creepy jump scares that are well-earned and a character’s use of technology in one sequence acts as an effective device to ratchet up tension. The narrative is troubled by plot holes at around the beginning of the third act, where several characters withhold information from one another without good reason, but the ending satisfies. The standout performances of the film belong to Cynthia Lee MacQuarrie as Siti, Lisa Kovack as Ashley’s mother Renee, and Charlotte Cattell’s magnetic performance as Naomi — a vivacious bundle of self-assurance and cruelty.
Blood Child is a sharp rebuke to those who feel entitled to the culture and magic of others, even after being warned away. The film screens at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 25th at The Royal Cinema, preceded by the Toronto premiere of Carl Tremblay’s taut cabin-country thriller Le Loup and the world premiere of Steve Choptiany’s hypnotic CGI meditation on good v. evil Crux: Black Sol Empire.