Leah, a young mother caring for her newborn at home. begins to chafe at the confines of her circumscribed life. Exhausted by the constant care of the baby and trapped in an increasingly claustrophobic house, she begins to question her husband Vincent’s love and intentions as a more sinister side to him emerges.
Director Joe Kicak’s atmospheric psychological thriller is a acutely sensitive portrait of a couple in crisis after the birth of their new baby. Marked by superb craftsmanship, a sensitive but tight script and excellent acting, it looks through the eyes of the young mother, offering a uniquely intimate, tumultuous and psychological perspective of a particularly different life transition.
The film’s images and camerawork are superlative, with its moody lighting and eerie movements. But with its psychological themes and subjective point-of-view, it really rests on excellent performances, especially by lead actress Heli Kennedy, who captures the irritation, exhaustion and agitation of a new mother adjusting to her role while still grappling with the expectations of her marriage. Riddled with anxiety, she becomes increasingly angry with her husband and what she perceives as his lack of contribution and understanding.
As the tension ratchets up between the couple, the film’s images, soundtrack and camerawork become even more ominous, shadowy and restless, and the house itself seems more and more haunted and foreboding. The tone subtly shifts, molding itself to the main character’s growing mistrust and paranoia and reflecting the strange moments of disassociation and even blackouts that the Lean experiences at her most challenged, isolated and stressed. The editing becomes more discontinuous, creating a sense of uncertainty over what exactly is and isn’t real.
The result is an increasingly tense narrative that becomes so taut that it threatens to snap with the suspense. The emotions evoked are visceral and heightened, and true to the psychological thriller genre, the film gets hearts racing and pulses pounding as it races to its almost unbearable climax.
But the short is also a deft, powerful portrait of postpartum depression and psychosis, alert and sympathetic to the textures and sounds of a new mother’s reality: the insistent wail of a child just as a mother sits down to rest, the attunement to the baby’s needs at the expense of the mother and the way that exhaustion and severe sleep deprivation can cause disassociation and alienation from the rest of the world. The last moments of “Frigid” may leave audiences gasping in shock and fear up to the very end, but its evocation of postpartum mental illness will linger, well after the last frame.