Director: Andrew Erwin & Jon Erwin
Runtime: 107 minutes
If only October Baby played it straight with no agenda. The advent of the mega-church I believe has led to a mega-church sponsored filmmaking, with Courageous being the last film in this category. The problem is these films fit a melodramatic niche, produced by non-filmmakers the language developed is, shall we say, risk adverse. It’s enough to have a sad scene, but it must be heightened by music that tells you how exactly to feel and the grammar is a bit off. It’s a shame, October Baby tells a highly compelling story with strong performances and excellent cinematography by its co-director Jon Erwin. His brother and co-director Andrew Erwin is perhaps to blame, as he’s the editor.
Questionable sound mix aside (a bit rough for a theatrical release, it could use another polish especially in how sound levels frequently drop out as if they didn’t record enough room tone, but let’s get back to the narrative), the film has a powerful pro-life story that isn’t nearly as shocking as Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire, which takes the material to the extremes. What is known early is Hannah, played in a star making performance by Rachel Hendrix, a 19-year old college freshman prone to seizures and writes about committing suicide in her journal. We learn via her father, Jacob (John Schneider) that not only was she adopted, but she was born pre-maturely (26-weeks) after a botched abortion attempt.
The film’s prolife theme falters several times: first – apparently the failed abortion attempt was a frequent occurrence at this clinic, perhaps making the case that while constitutionally protected access to abortion services in certain areas are inadequate, I agree women deserve better care. Secondly, and occurring during the film’s end credits is a very powerful and personal story. I believe abortion is not a decision a women takes lightly and this story proves it, God will indeed forgive you.
The film is compelling as Hannah goes in search of her birthmother on a road trip with a group of friends, although they could be better developed. This includes Jason (Jason Burkey), the popular guy who is genuinely a nice person and – surprise – attracted to Hannah. Hannah, true to her roots, purports to have a wild side, shown while playing Scrabble at the student union. This leads to breaking and entering the hospital where Hannah was born, which is now shuttered. After a run-in with the law, she and Jason are let go by a forgiving officer and given the contact information for Nurse Mary, played by Jasmine Guy. The nurse had served in the clinic and had details for Hannah about her birth mother.
October Baby is a leap forward for Christian filmmaking, but I do wish the genre would abandon its preachiness. I know, I know – this is the reason these films exist, but I’d hope people of faith are smarter than this. In reflecting on a smaller moment between Hannah and Jason early in the film I was reminded of another moment amongst two teens in Aaron Katz’s Dance Party USA, a no-budget mumblecore film. This moment is equally as powerful but without a music score telling us what to feel. The actors are simply out there, on the high wire themselves. To the credit of its cast, especially Hendrix, they (and we) don’t need these heavy-handed instructions.
This leads me to a conflict as on one hand a film is “how” it’s about, not “what” it’s about. Christian film has thankfully evolved from the days of Left Behind and B-action movies into more personal stories, but it still has a ways to go. There is a lot to admire in October Baby, even if its premise seems designed mostly as a teaching moment for faith, instead of a dramatic narrative. It has strong moments even as it advocates against what I believe is a very personal decision that women rarely take lightly, where services are rendered in a professional environment. The alternative, Lake of Fire, which shows the actual procedure, wasn’t an experience you’d find at a Regal 20-plex, and thus not “mainstream.”
October Baby is, and it ought not be, bound its delivery format. You can make a case without preaching, films do this all the time. This is why governments are afraid of the media. If this film detached itself from the tropes of soap operas, delivering its message in a more understated and subtle fashion, this would have been a rare breed of faith-based drama. It’s too smart and earnest for the filmic predicament it finds itself in.
October Baby is in limited release.
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