Izzy Lee’s new short film Postpartum plays on all sorts of fears: fears women have of becoming mothers, and what can happen to them afterwards; fears our society has of what women can turn into once they give birth; and the archetypal fear of not knowing, precisely, what women are capable of giving birth to.
A woman (Diana Porter, a frequent Lee collaborator) goes to check on a friend (Kasey Lansdale, daughter of writer Joe) whose front door is plastered with an eviction notice. When the door opens, the friend, Holly, is completely disheveled and smeared with what looks like dried blood. Holly is clearly in the throes of a serious mental illness; hair matted to her head, she waves off her friend’s pleas for explanation and repeatedly slaps her hands over her ears, plagued by her baby’s constant screaming. She’s clearly at the end of her rope. But, as Porter’s character tries to get her bearings in the filthy apartment, the audience can’t help but notice that not only is there no baby screaming in the background…there doesn’t seem to be any baby, period.
As with her previous films Legitimate (2013) and Picket (2014), with Postpartum Lee continues her thematic focus on hot-button topics concerning women and women’s bodies. The screen practically vibrates as she wrestles with her political frustrations; like the best body horror auteurs, Lee knows that some emotions can only be fully communicated through, as a certain Canadian would describe it, the new flesh. Despite her obvious genre referents, Lee displays solid formal instincts in Postpartum, as in all her work, resisting the schlock route. Shots are well-framed and lit, and when she cuts to a severe low angle or extreme close-up, it is an obviously deliberate choice; there’s no feeling of haphazardness in her films. Each one is neatly wrapped, like a poisonous jewel.
The music in Postpartum, which only accompanies the very beginning and ending of the film, recalls a broken child’s toy – a neat trick because, while being a cute double entendre, the music itself is still dramatically effective. Even the film’s title has this satirical/profound duality to it: on the one hand, it’s referencing postpartum depression, which is certainly no laughing matter. But on the other, it’s referring to the period of time itself in which Lansdale’s character finds herself—a moment in which she occupies a liminal existence when the hammer of reality, it seems, has yet to fall. The (literal) skeletons in her closet are safe…for now.
The film’s final shot hints that perhaps she can pull herself together and escape a grim fate, but it’s hard to tell if this is a fantasy on her part, or an ominous foreshadowing of what could happen if she and her offspring are unleashed upon the world. Perhaps a sequel is in order.