Fantasia Review: 'Baby Money' Is Home Invasion Thriller, Minus the Thrills Directed by Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth
Starring Danay Garcia, Taja V. Simpson, Michael Drayer, Joey Kern, Vernon Taylor III
Published Aug 17, 2021A character-driven thriller ought to be compelling. Taking a home invasion thriller into a new space that perhaps we haven't seen before, or exploring it from an angle not typical to the genre — what a trip that should be. Even a formulaic thriller, if done well, can be a wild and entertaining ride. But when a thriller doesn't really do either, it lacks an identity and can fail to find an audience. Baby Money, unfortunately, falls into this trap.
We begin with Minny (Danay Garcia), her boyfriend Gil (Michael Drayer) and his partner Dom (Joey Kern) attempting to break into a home on a job looking for the film's McGuffin, a purple box. The robbery goes wrong, and Gil and Dom are forced to flee the house while Minny, after hearing gunshots, drives away in a panic. Gil and Dom find refuge in a nearby house but have their getaway foiled when the owner Heidi (Taja V. Simpson) and her son Chris (Vernon Taylor III) return home.
Heidi and Chris are held captive as Gil and Dom figure out how to escape the neighbourhood undetected and deliver the purple box for their payday. Minny attempts to track down a new car to help Gil and Dom escape and collect the money. When Heidi is pulled into their scheme, her only priority is keeping Chris safe.
In trying to introduce a different level of stakes, directors Mikhael Bassilli and Luc Walpoth give each of their characters a different set of challenges. Minny is eight months pregnant, motivating her and Gil to get involved in the robbery in the first place. Dom is the more seasoned criminal of the bunch; he's unhinged and quick to resort to violence. Heidi is a hospital technician who cares for Chris, who has cerebral palsy and is prone to seizures when stressed.
While a balance needs to be struck in not manipulating audiences by using medical conditions or late-term pregnancies too egregiously, moral dilemmas and logistical roadblocks could have been tastefully explored. Instead, when Baby Money isn't following a formulaic plot, characters are making decisions that don't make much sense or are so maddening that viewers will clock out in frustration.
Baby Money has minimal action, presumably to make way for a larger character study. But when the most effecting aspects of characters are inconsequential, and when background stories are brushed over, the characters become hollow and action scenes are sorely needed. By failing to service story and action enough, Baby Money becomes a lesser version of its potential and falls flat.
The saving grace of the film though is the performances of the actors. Across the board, everyone puts their best foot forward, injecting humour and heart when needed. The dynamic and chemistry between the characters is great, even in improbable situations.
A great action-thriller film has well-choreographed, high-octane action that explores the motivations of the characters, whether right or wrong. Baby Money foregoes the former to be the latter, but does so poorly. Great performances and a well-shot movie aren't enough to save Baby Money.
Fantasia Film Festival runs August 5 to 25 in Montreal. Screenings take place both virtually and in-person. (Red Hound Films)