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REVIEW: Ready to Burst

Tokophobia – the irrational fear of pregnancy and childbirth – has been inspiring horror writers and filmmakers for decades. From Rosemary’s Baby to the chest-bursting scene in Alien, the fear of something (some thing) growing inside us holds a particular fascination. Ariel Hansen’s short horror film, Ready to Burst is an interesting addition to this subgenre.

Kate and Dylyn, played respectively by Hansen herself and Lee Shorten (The Man in the High Castle), are eager to have a child. They turn to fertility treatment and, soon, Kate is pregnant. Unsurprisingly (this is a horror film, after all) things begin to go terribly wrong.

Hansen creates a Cronenbergian world, where science is mad and doctors are not to be trusted. Kate’s pregnancy advances less like a natural event and more like a disease. She deteriorates quickly, both physically and, possibly, mentally. I say ‘possibly’ because it really isn’t clear whether Kate is hallucinating her worsening condition or whether it’s all going to plan.

And this is where Ready to Burst gets really interesting. Because the action is limited to just a couple of locations, we don’t really know what kind of world Kate and Dylyn are living in. Is it our world or some dystopian alternative? The doctor seems to accept the weirder physical manifestations of Kate’s pregnancy as relatively normal. Does he not see the grotesque web of veins on Kate’s belly or are they a perfectly acceptable side-effect? Does Dylyn not see the bloody handprints smeared around their apartment or are they to be expected? When Dylyn holds his child for the first time, his expression is so unreadable it’s impossible to tell if this is a natal disaster or precisely the kind of parenthood he was hoping for. The way Hansen blurs weird and normal is extremely accomplished for a director making her debut.

The slithering climax is superbly handled. The special effects by Carolyn Williams (Star Trek Beyond, Van Helsing) deserve a mention: a ‘less is more’ approach which really pays off. And a special mention should go to Jordan Barnes-Crouse’s camerawork, which is slick and professional; not something we see a lot of in short horror films of the independent variety.

Unfortunately, the film’s short format works against it a little. There isn’t enough time to develop the characters or to really ratchet-up the tension. But this is only a minor gripe.

Ariel Hansen, who writes, directs, co-produces and stars in Ready to Burst, is definitely a talent to watch.

 

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