Directed by: Sebastián Silva
Starring: Sebastián Silva, Tunde Adebimpe, Kristen Wiig, Reg E. Cathey
“Sassy and impersonal”, that’s how one gallery owner describes the latest installation designed by down and out performance artist Freddy (Sebastián Silva). Drawing from his own life, Freddy’s latest creation takes the form of a video collage displaying himself and others reverting back to their infantile state – plenty of blowing bubbles and screaming boo-boos. He may be blind to such reality, but we can clearly see how artistically barren Freddy’s abstraction is, just as we can understand almost immediately that Nasty Baby is more misguided than it is meaningful.Residing in Brooklyn with his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe), Freddy is currently in the process of trying to conceive a baby with his close friend Polly (Kristen Wiig): writer/director/actor Sebastián Silva compounding personal experiances alongside threads of Juno & Love Is Strange within his ambitious script. The community is one cradled by gentrification – a vibrant mini-metropolis, which DP Sergio Armstrong imbues with sun-kissed warmth and a delightfully dreamy ambiance – where artists and yuppies expect to live in perpetual peace. And their apartment is a hipster’s heaven, packed with blossoming pot plants and furnished with hand-sculpted wooden fixtures.
Silva may be moving away from the more psychedelic nature of his previous work here, but his approach to storytelling remains impressively experimental. Taking the form of an essay, Nasty Baby ponders the societal implications of increasing affluence within suburban strongholds, whilst also reflecting upon the growing personal fears of pregnancy and parenthood. As well as navigating the idea of creating life, Freddy, Mo and Polly must also contend with a confrontational neighbour (Reg E. Cathey), and traverse their own morality as they consider how far they’re willing to go to protect life.Striking performances, particularly from Kristen Wiig and Reg E. Cathey, underpin the developing drama, but Silva’s directorial delivery is ill judged. A sudden descent into violence and terror during the third act adds a Hitchcockian twist, allowing the filmmaker to once more indulge in audience manipulation – he plays on the moral ambiguities of his characters, whilst also testing our own theoretical understanding of protagonists and antagonists, with feverish excitement.
From a narrative standpoint, however, this slide into savagery strikes as unconvincing, causing a great deal of tonal confusion within the plot. In place of subtlety, we are spoon-fed enhanced theatricality that leaves the lasting impression of a petulant child who’s desperately crying out for our attention: a very nasty baby indeed.