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Shiva Baby – Movie Review

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Shiva Baby – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Pacific Northwest Pictures

While suspense movies can be unsettling, relatable movies focused on difficult situations end up being more so. In Shiva Baby, director/writer Emma Seligman captures the anxiety and occasional annoyance of being forced to answer mundane questions you’re not comfortable going into detail with. Throughout its lean 77-minute runtime, we are in Danielle’s shoes as she deals with the wrenches thrown at her and the need to constantly explain her current working situation. Seligman makes great use of the setting of this house with constant activity at every corner, all the while people are mourning. Even though it’s set during a Jewish shiva service, people outside of the faith will still recognise the themes.

Seligman glides us through each scene and builds the nervousness felt by Danielle. As we watch her interact with different characters, she finds herself overcoming a new problem. The cast perfectly understands the right tone of the material and all are necessary pieces in this story. While Danielle’s mother attempts to watch her closely, her father is just happy to have her there, even as his mind is in other places. Some of the best scenes are between Danielle and the more confident Maya. Rachel Sennott and Molly Gordon bounce off each other really well, as we see the push and pull between them.

Many will relate to the feeling when someone pummels you with questions that feel like they’re just asking for an autobiography and you would rather be anywhere else. One gets the feeling Seligman has been in similar situations herself and we sense Danielle’s discomfort as she nervously gives her answers. However, not all of Shiva Baby is anxiety-driven. There are plenty of funny moments born out of the dialogue and certain events. Danielle’s father (played wonderfully by Fred Melamed) and his desire to help everyone leads to a number of strong comedic scenes, especially the scenes with his beloved van.

Filmed almost entirely in a single house, Seligman and director of photography Maria Rusche keep everything close and personal with many close-ups. These shots fit perfectly with what the movie is going for and we also get a claustrophobic feeling with how many people are crowding inside. The faces of minor players stay with us, even as Danielle goes elsewhere, and Seligman makes sure our focus is on what’s happening in the entire frame. Ariel Marx’s score plays a pivotal role in Shiva Baby, too. The use of strings fits with the way Danielle’s mind is constantly racing and definitely gets the heart pumping.

Shiva Baby marks a promising feature directing debut for Emma Seligman, who presents a unique take on awkward situations. She finds multiple scenarios to put Danielle into as she navigates her way through the shiva and the comedic and dramatic elements work well together. There’s a natural feel to the conversations, too, with a large amount of credit going to the actors. You find out so much about these people and because of the runtime, the movie doesn’t outstay its welcome. When the end credits roll not long after pressing play, it thankfully doesn’t feel like we have been short-changed.

Stefan Ellison