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MOVIES: Shiva Baby - Review

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Emma Seligman’s fantastic directorial debut, Shiva Baby, is a stress-fuelled experience of assured confidence that brings to mind the filmmaking of the Safdie Brothers – think the tension of Uncut Gems or Good Time with echoes of The Graduate, enclosed in a neat, under-90 minutes runtime that almost resembles a short film rather than a feature – the film wastes no time in getting going as it introduces you to a sex-positive take on a bisexual lead where her bisexuality for once, isn’t her main defining focus – the film instead casts our eyes on college student Danielle who attends a family shiva that leads to situations almost spiralling out of control completely when she runs into not only her sugar daddy but also her ex-girlfriend, made all the more complicated by being in the mix of an extended family of pushy, over-curious relatives.

Shiva Baby succeeds in taking ordinary situations and amplifying them to a T in the same way that Uncut Gems did, putting them on top of each other and adding an Hitchcockian violin to the situation for an uncomfortably erratic experience. There’s a touch of Cassavetes here in the quick, witty dialogue, the flawed but likeable characters give you a sense of purpose and a commitment to keep watching – Rachel Sennott really anchors everything together with Molly Gordon excelling in a supporting role. There’s no wasted space, literally – Shiva Baby isn’t even 80 minutes long – and on Mubi, its streaming platform that it debuted on in the UK yesterday as perfect counter-programming to the Euros - it comes with an extended Q&A session that is frequently becoming more and more common now that virtual Q&As are the norm.

The whole film is deeply uncomfortable, it plays on a sense of fear and nightmare-inducing Hereditary-like constant stress that threatens to boil over. It takes a situation and utilises it for the mouthpiece of what seems like a time where many are increasingly disillusioned, giving the character the voice that many are sharing. It helps that the whole film, too, under the masterful gaze of Emma Seligman, is done on a small budget, showing what maximum creativity can be accomplished in its psychotic, sharp visor – more of a dramedy taking place in mostly one location than a typical comedy – but a comedy of errors nonetheless – Shiva Baby instantly emerges as one of the most claustrophobic films of the year, and one of the best that simply demands to be seen. Believe the hype.

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