Film

Ali Abbasi’s Low-Key Pregnancy Horror Film ‘Shelley’ Boasts Great Atmosphere but Few Answers

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In its artsy, obscured-narrative way, Shelley does for scary baby movies what Under the Skin did for seductive-alien flicks — and should certainly appeal to fans of the latter. Others may wish it would hurry up and get to its reveals, such as they are. First-time feature director Ali Abbasi excels at atmosphere, understanding that any beautiful landscape can be made terrifying with the right sound design and that a cut to a silent interior can be as jarring as any jump scare. His script, unfortunately, is not as interesting.

Live-in maid Elena (Cosmina Stratan) takes an offer she can’t (but should) refuse from the wealthy Luddite Danish couple whose chicken farm she helps maintain: become the surrogate mom for their frozen embryo, and they’ll buy her a new apartment that will have room for her and the young son she rarely sees. Almost immediately, her body rebels with cramps, strange rashes, hair loss, and nightmarish delusions.

More mood piece than eventful narrative, Shelley lingers for way too much screen time on the “preganancy sucks!” part of the story, when the real good stuff (by which of course I mean terrible, upsetting stuff) is what happens once the baby is finally born. Much is left to inference — is the infant actually evil? Was Elena insane? What’s really going on with the crazy white-haired faith healer (Björn Andrésen), aside from his amazing wrinkles?

Shelley

Directed by Ali Abbasi

IFC Midnight

Opens July 29, IFC Center