Film Review: ‘Something’

The anxiety of caring for a newborn feeds into a thriller that's grounded in everyday parental tensions, until the surreal (and implausible) takes over.

Stephen Portland
Jane Rowen, Michael Gazin, Joel Clark Ackerman, Eric Roberts, Evan Carver, Elise Zell.
Release Date:
Mar 1, 2019

Official Site: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6185266/

Certain movie titles are better in theory than practice. “Something,” Stephen Portland’s low-budget psychological horror film about the stress brought on by caring for a newborn baby, has a title that refers to the mysterious force disrupting the lives of two young parents. (The characters, who are never named, are played by Jane Rowen and Michael Gazin.) Is that force nothing more — or less — than the mother’s postpartum fear and depression? Is it a mysterious physical intruder? Or is it a spirit that arrives in the form of a black-cloaked figure wearing one of those creepy long-beaked plague-doctor masks? (If it is a spirit, this leave us wondering: Why does the mask look like a fifth grader’s papier-mâché art project?)

The ambiguity, or maybe we should just call it confusion, is supposed to be expressed by the title, which is offered in the ominous something? what thing? spirit of Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes.” But instead, the word “Something” just sounds like a noncommittal placeholder. And the film is a little like that too. The entire thing is set inside the stark rooms of the couple’s angular suburban home, and they, along with the baby, are the only two characters (apart from a sprinkling of cops). “Something” has a few observations to make about the perils of contemporary parenthood, but instead of whipping them into tension it douses them in catch-as-catch-can thriller vagueness.

The best part of the movie is its opening half hour, during which Portland, whose debut feature this is, demonstrates a sharp ear for the kind of dog-whistle provocations a couple can engage in when the infant who’s suddenly at the center of their world has altered everything, starting with the way they relate.

Popular on Variety

Rowen’s character is working hard to be the “perfect” mother, which causes her to lash out at anything her husband does that isn’t fully supportive of that mission. A number of her demands are reasonable (like griping that he hasn’t fixed the water heater yet), a handful are unreasonable (like hinting that he should cancel a business trip built around one of his advertising clients). But what the movie captures is the way parental politics has now become a passive-aggressive language of power and supplication. The prospect of moving the crib out of the bedroom and into the nursery turns into a delicate psychodramatic skirmish, symbolized by the fact that Gazin has to take the whole damn thing apart just to get it through the door. (Now there’s a horror premise, and title, for you: a living nightmare called “The IKEA Instruction Manual Massacre.”)

At a time when the roles of men and women, more than ever, are changing, the demands of parenthood just up the ante on all the ways that they can misunderstand or even resent each other. “Something,” for a while, feels like a threadbare variation on the maternal-horror genre of “Rosemary’s Baby,” and the movie should have emerged out of the walking-on-eggshells tensions that develop between Rowen and Gazin. The two come off as the sort of sharp, sensitive, knowing parents who, these days, are prone to overanalyzing what they’re doing. The desire to get everything “right” is their way of turning a natural process into a parent trap.

But “Something” takes an awkward dip into the supernatural-surreal when the two set up a baby monitor, and Rowen thinks she glimpses a presence in the other room. Is it a projection of what’s going on in her head? Or is the movie turning into “Paranormal Activity: The Crib Terror”? It’s supposed to be a bit of both, but the fright-film gambits are crudely lit and staged, and they seem to have dropped in from another movie. We keep watching to see what’s “real,” but instead of becoming more disquieting the film just grows less convincing. By the time Eric Roberts shows up, in a cameo appearance, as a chuckling coroner, you may feel that “Something” has toyed with the audience in one too many ways.

Film Review: 'Something'

Reviewed online, Feb. 27, 2019. MPAA Rating: Not rated. Running time: 86 MIN.


A Subspin Productions release of a Subspin Productions production.


Director, screenplay: Stephen Portland. Camera (color, widescreen): Christopher James Jordan. Editor: Noel Berwick. Music: Charlie Emerson.

With: Jane Rowen, Michael Gazin, Joel Clark Ackerman, Eric Roberts, Evan Carver, Elise Zell.

More Film

  • Jimmy Carter

    Tribeca Film Festival to Open With 'Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President'

    The 19th annual Tribeca Film Festival will open on April 15 with the world premiere of the documentary “Jimmy Carter Rock & Roll President.” The film explores Carter’s lifelong passion for all genres of music and how it helped propel him, a former peanut farmer from Georgia, all the way to the White House. Carter’s [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival Entry Cristi Puiu’s

    Berlin: Cristi Puiu’s ‘Malmkrog’ Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for Cristi Puiu’s “Malmkrog,” the opening film of the Berlin Film Festival’s new competitive strand, Encounters. Shellac is handling world sales. “Malmkrog” is set at the manor house of an aristocratic landowner in Transylvania. Among the handpicked guests who have arrived to spend the Christmas holidays [...]

  • No Time to Die Trailer

    Bond Film 'No Time to Die' Cancels China Premiere, Tour Due to Virus

    Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the new James Bond film “No Time to Die” has cancelled its Beijing premiere as well as a promotional tour with talent in April, according to Chinese reports. The film, which marks star Daniel Craig’s last turn as the iconic spy, is set to debut in North America on April [...]

  • Honest Candidate

    Korea Box Office: ‘Honest Candidate’ Wins Weekend as ‘Parasite’ Returns to Chart

    Opening on Wednesday (Feb. 12), comedy “Honest Candidate” topped the South Korean box office, ahead of “Little Women” and Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” which returned to the charts eight months after its original release. “Candidate” earned $6.52 million from 909,000 admissions over five days. Directed by Chang You-jeong (“Finding Mr. Destiny”), “Candidate” is the story of [...]

  • Sophia Loren

    Netflix Takes Global Rights to Sophia Loren's First Feature Film in a Decade

    Netflix has acquired global rights to drama “The Life Ahead,” which marks Sophia Loren’s return in front of the camera for a feature film after a decade. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, “Life Ahead” sees the iconic Italian Oscar winner playing Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a 12-year-old Senegalese [...]

  • The Book of Sun

    Oliver Stone to Head Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Festival Jury, Lineup Announced

    Oliver Stone will preside over the main jury of Saudi Arabia’s nascent Red Sea International Film Festival, which has unveiled its inaugural lineup. The fest will feature the Middle East premiere of Harvey Weinstein-inspired workplace abuse drama “The Assistant” amid a fresh mix of feature films and docs from Europe, the U.S., Asia and Africa [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content