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Movie Review: The Double Born

DVD cover featuring a pregnant woman holding her belly

Writer/director Tony Randel turns to guerrilla filmmaking tactics for his latest thriller, The Double Born, and creates a sexy, simmering slow burn that features a smoldering, tortured performance from former indie film “it girl” Sammi Davis.

Based on a short story by Bram Stoker, The Double Born is recast as a trailer trash Southern Gothic tale about a middle-aged woman, Sophie (Davis), so desperate to have a baby that she “rapes” her husband Ephraim (Jon Lindstrom) in the middle of the night. Yes, Sophie is slightly deranged, made mad after a terrible tragedy that is slowly revealed, confined to her dark, claustrophobic little home and trapped by her own desperation.

Davis plays Sophie with just the right amount of anguish and confusion. It’s a performance that goes to the top, but not over it. But, also sprinkled throughout we get glimpses of the old Sophie, the woman who existed before her entire world was shattered. Watching Davis create a terribly complex and deeply sympathetic character in Sophie makes us realize how much she’s been missed from the acting world for the past 10 years. Hopefully, this is a comeback role and not a final farewell to the screen.

Now, this is a thriller and not a drama, so into Sophie’s life enters two twisted young men, Harry (Jake Bern) and Tommy (Alex Weed), whose favorite pastime is slashing abandoned mattresses and car seats to shreds in the woods. The set-up is clear: Woman desperate for a baby whose husband can’t give her one meets two fertile, slightly psychotic lads. The audience can do the math from the opening scenes. One plus two equals terrible consequences.

Randel’s script doesn’t confound expectations with its premise. Instead, it truly revels in them in the first three-quarters or so, cheerfully leading the audience towards the inevitable, tragic fate these characters must meet. Plus, there are plenty of nice, little twists along the way where the audience is left to wonder if what it’s watching is a horror film or a thriller. There are multiple ways in which the story can go in it’s final death throes and Randel sets up one direction only to veer onto another course.

But, really contributing to the shifts between horror and thriller is the film’s experimental and abstract flourishes, as well as a gritty, low-fi cinematography by Brian Hahn. The overall look of the film is on the grainy side, providing an appropriate dingy atmosphere. But, within the harsh contrast between light and dark is a very playfully colorful film. Scenes that are a washed out pale blue are jutted up against scenes soaked in a deep, blood red. Also, many scenes are shot and presented in a disorienting way, such as the dialogue-free seduction scene in a bar between Sophie and a macho biker that’s powered by a low-grade hum in the background; or one scene shot head-on in a crystal ball, disfiguring and inverting the action that happens on the other side of it.

Going the lo-fi route on The Double Born seems to have really brought out the best from Davis and Randel, both of whom have been out of the feature film scene for a decade. On the one hand, the film is a very simple one with a few characters in a few remote locations. But, there’s a certain appealing “go for broke” vibe to the production, with Randel seeing how creative he can get working with such limitations — a far cry from even low budget horror features like Hellbound: Hellraiser II — and Davis giving a deeply thoughtful performance. The two collaborated previously in 1998’s Assignment Berlin, which I haven’t seen, but here their efforts have combined into a powerful, unsettling force.

Watch The Double Born movie trailer:


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