Shiva Baby (2020) – Film Review


At a Jewish funeral service with her parents, a college student runs into her sugar daddy. With that Shiva Baby delivers more drama at a function than one of Margot Channing’s parties. To paraphrase the great woman, “Hold on to your yamakas, it’s going to be a bumpy night”.

We have all been there. Attending a family gathering like a party, wedding or wake where you forced to talk to a bunch of people you barely remember and answer questions about your future which you do not have the answers to yet.

Now throw in your embarassing parents, your ex-girlfriend AND your Sugar Daddy, who it turns out has a wife a baby and you can imagine the stress that Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is under.

Emma Seligman‘s feature debut has all the elements of a traditional farce set up. However what elevates this into one of the best films of the year is her decision to film it as a horror movie.

The discordant and unsettling score by Ariel Marx is full of dissonant chords that give the impression that Danielle is a constant state of fear and danger. The cinematography is also equally threatening. As the film progresses, it feels like the frame is tightening and the walls closing in around her. The guests portrayed as ghoulish demons, swirling around waiting for her demise.

These elements act to heighten the pressure cooker setting of the Shiva which, while short for a feature at 77 minutes, provides no respite for our character as it is essentially played out in real time.

The result is easily the most stressful and anxiety inducing viewing experience since Uncut Gems. Like The Safdie Brothers’ masterpiece, this is fuelled by a fantastic lead performance from Rachel Sennott. Full of humour, pathos and empathy. Similar to Adam Sandler’s Howie, the character of Danielle’s seems predisposed to making bad choices. Ones that will have audiences screaming at the screen. However it is testament to Sennott, that despite this, it is impossible not to warm to her and hope beyond hope that she is able to make it out of there in one piece.

Shiva Baby provides a great example of the circle of life. While set at a wake and marking the passing of life, it also heralds the birth of two stars in Sennot and Seligman.

Shiva Baby is available to stream exclusively with MUBI from June 11

Rating: ★★★★★

Director: Emma Segilman
Stars: Rachel Sennot, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed
Runtime: 77 minutes
Country: USA

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