Would you kill to protect your family? In Baby Brother, Adam (Paddy Rowan) is driven to the brink of murder. The feature film, directed by Michael J. Long, centers around Adam and his relationship with his younger brother, Liam (Brian Comer). It is told in a mix of present shots and black and white flashbacks from five years before. The brothers have been separated for so long because, as we are told early on via a radio announcement, Adam was arrested for murder and recently escaped prison.
Adam, Liam, and their mother Joanne (Julia Ross) live in a typical suburban two story home. It doesn’t have much decor to it, and feels uncomfortable. A home may be a safe space for some, but it is easily noticeable that no character in Baby Brother considers this house their safe space. Joanne is dating a drug addict, who seemingly lives with them. Robbie (Billy Moore) makes the family’s life much harder by spending their money and getting into trouble with neighborhood drug dealers. The impression is left that Joanne is an absent mother, and a lot of parenting responsibilities fall on Adam. We also are introduced to Liam and his girlfriend, Charlotte (Kathryn McGurk), and their relationship in the present. Adam seems somewhat surprised that Liam has a girlfriend, and gets jealous of how close the two are. He sees Charlotte as his replacement. Meanwhile, Liam’s good friend Rafa (AJ Jones) is a reminder of the past to Adam, and he keeps Rafa around, but we aren’t sure if he pities him or genuinely wants him there. We aren’t told until the end of the film who Adam was originally arrested for murdering, but it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. We explore these characters and their complications, like Adam: a nineteen year old who may have committed a major crime, but does so for the love of his brother and mother. In the flashbacks, we see how gentle he is with Liam and how much he cares for him and his mother, despite the fact that his mother is constantly drunk and yells at him because of it. Liam is too naive, but looks up to his brother more than anyone else. The family is complicated and twisted, but they are still a unit. These interesting, three-dimensional characters help us stay engaged with the film, even as they do despicable things.
Adam in the present is not the same as the Adam we see in flashbacks. Present Adam would not be tolerable as a main character without the flashbacks to humanize him. He causes more problems after escaping jail, all because he wants to spend time with his brother, but goes about it in the wrong way. Liam has moved on from missing Adam, as he is beginning to start a family and is trying to find a job. We can sense Adam is jealous that Liam is getting a chance at a normal life, and takes this jealousy out on Rafa and Charlotte through violence. Rowan does a fantastic job at playing these two very different versions of Adam – it is a performance that draws you into the character’s story. Rowan has great chemistry with the other actors and goes from just a drunk young adult to a terrifying criminal in moments. Throughout the film, we are shown parallels between the flashbacks, where he is just a teenager trying to defend his family, to the present, where he is still just trying to defend his family, but it is obvious that the events that have taken place in between have altered his senses. We see this through Rowan’s performance almost as if he treats the past and the present Adam as two different characters he is portraying, yet gives them similarities such as the speed at which he gets defensive, to show he has not completely changed. Despite Baby Brother being so gruesome, there is something about it that is terrifyingly human. Part of it may be that it takes place in a simple neighborhood, one that can be compared to any suburb. The story feels real in its setting, but makes it that much scarier that it takes place in a setting many are familiar with.
Another noteworthy performance is that of Billy Moore. His character is deeply flawed, resorting to drugs he cannot afford, and taking out his anger on both the boys and Joanne. Yet, there is also a unique bonding scene between him and Adam, where we begin to trust him a bit more and even forgive him a little for his past actions. Moore gains not only Adam’s trust, but ours. Moore also grabs our attention in the climatic scene, and he is a worthy partner for Rowan in said scene. The chemistry the two have help us stay locked in on the scene, despite it being so intense.
The sound effects (Richard Garland, Tom Fofar, Nathan Blakeley, and Olivia Jessica Burns) utilized in the film are well done, especially for the amount of fight scenes. There are many scenes in which someone falls to the ground or is hit, and the sound effects only heighten the anticipation and tense feeling through these moments. These scenes were carefully choreographed by fight director Jonathan Hunter, and paired with SFX by the team of four that pulls the shots together nicely.
The storyline lends itself to the visual format, but there are many smaller plot points twisted in that didn’t necessarily fit. Despite this, overall, the film has a certain appeal to it. There are many visually stunning shots (cinematography by Dave Short), especially in the black and white sequences. The final shot is beautiful with its symmetry, and only made more fantastic paired with Adam’s monologue about mourning the person he could have become. Shots like these elevated the piece. The editing (Dave Short) brought it all together.
Baby Brother is psychologically scary, yet at the same time, raises sympathy for this dysfunctional family and this boy. . . who it all went wrong for.