Sarah’s estranged and volatile husband Soroush has kidnapped their fragile, sickly daughter Etti, sending the mother into a tailspin of fear and anxiety.
She recruits a neighbor, Mike, who has witnessed the kidnapping to help her with her dilemma. But her neighbor harbors a subtle yet unmistakable prejudice against Middle Eastern people, as well as a few secrets of his own. As a new threat emerges and layers of deception peel away, Etti’s life hangs in the balance between two warring parents.
Inspired by true events, director Nour Wazzi’s stylish and atmospheric thriller harnesses the gripping narrative power of the thriller genre to probe thought-provoking questions about identity and expectations. With a foundation of impeccable craftsmanship and excellently structured writing and editing, viewers race through a high-stakes situation, upending expectations and questioning assumptions in the process.
The storytelling accomplishes a lot in the short film format, packing an immense amount of tension and suspense as well as deftly constructed and highly complex characters. But its strategies are also quite sophisticated: it takes Sarah as its engine, and we experience much of the film’s events through her eyes.
But in doing so, we see Soroush as an antagonist, vilifying him alongside Sarah as a monstrous, unpredictable force. Yet is Sarah who she seems? As we confront the reliability of her character, our perception of what’s real and what isn’t crumbles, and we’re forced to question our own assumptions.
This tricky high-wire act of perception and reality is elevated by an excellent cast, the most prominent of which is actor Alexander Siddig, beloved to “Star Trek” audiences and renowned for performances in films like “Syriana” and “Kingdom of Heaven.” Actor Rachael Stirling gives a controlled, precise yet emotional performance as a mother with an unmistakable deep love for her daughter and a need to be needed. It’s the trickiest role in the story, but Stirling stays true to the core of her character’s feelings for her daughter, making her understandable even though the story’s twists and turns.
The thriller genre is known for its high stakes, the construction of high-stakes pressure-cooker situations and often an upending of characters or information, which often causes audiences to reconsider their own perception of earlier narrative events and ideas. Like a Moebius strip turning inside out, the pleasure is in learning to see a story in one way, only to have it change shape with a carefully calibrated twist.
“Baby Mine” fulfills all the thriller tropes, and while it’s entertaining as the genre promises, it also accomplishes the work of upending our implicit ideas about race, gender and parenthood. We see how easy it is in volatile, visceral situations to default to pernicious assumptions and play upon them in order to “win” or dominate. The film’s resonance, therefore, is not just as a finely conceived and sleekly wrought piece of entertainment — though it is — but in the work it asks of the audience, to look at themselves and their beliefs and perhaps questions how easily they are manipulated, both in the story and perhaps in real life.