Baby Ruby will freak out a lot of women because it finds horror in the effects of postpartum psychosis. It will freak out a lot of men because they'll get insight into what some women go through after childbirth. The film succeeds in generating a number of genuinely chilling moments without ever losing focus on the emotions of the woman at the center. For certain viewers, it might even be cinematic birth control, causing them to swear off ever getting pregnant.
Noémie Merlant plays Jo, a pregnant blogger happily married to Spencer (Kit Harrington). She's excited to be expecting, and gives birth to a beautiful daughter they name Ruby. Something isn't right afterward, though. Ruby cries non-stop, leaving Jo stressed and exhausted. She tries to find support in a "mommy group" run by Shelly (Meredith Hagner), but all the women seem oddly fit and well-rested - the exact opposite of what she is.
Then Jo begins having what appear to be psychotic episodes. She believes that Ruby is angry at her and actively trying to harm her by biting during breast feeding. Scary hallucinations also occur at regular intervals, including one involving a thrown infant. Feelings of paranoia grow rapidly, to the point where even those closest to her suddenly seem like part of a big conspiracy to torment her.
Postpartum psychosis is a rare, yet horrible condition that can affect women following childbirth. Baby Ruby gives an impression of what it must be like. As with Jo, we aren't always sure what's real and what's not. Writer/director Bess Wohl stages the shock scenes effectively, catching us off-guard more than once. Just as importantly, she conveys the insecurity that wracks Jo. Those mommies are “off” in a way we can't quite pinpoint, and watching Jo put herself down for not being as happy as they are creates a level of sadness that runs below the traditional horror elements.
Merlant has been a strong presence in everything from Portrait of a Woman on Fire, to Jumbo, to TÁR. She's exceptionally good here, making sure we understand the anguish Jo feels, both in not experiencing the joy she believes she should, and in the way she can't sort her mind out amid all the chaos. The film has multiple intense scenes, yet the actress remains rock steady in never letting Jo's plight get swallowed by them. Her performance is authentic, capturing the swirling thoughts of a new mother who is overwhelmed by how different her reality is from her expectations.
Baby Ruby has a plot turn near the end that I didn't entirely buy into, and additional development of Spencer as a character would have underlined further how alone Jo feels, despite having a dedicated spouse. Otherwise, this is a movie that generates enormous compassion for its heroine at the same time that it's sending chills up your spine.
out of four
Baby Ruby is unrated but contains adult language and some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.