Emma Seligman triumphs with her debut feature, Shiva Baby

Cooper Traluch

Released a year ago in film festivals, Emma Seligman’s directorial debut, Shiva Baby, got its release in theaters and streaming platforms, April 2.

Shiva Baby tells the story of Danielle, a directionless young woman who attends a shiva with her parents. What follows is, to say the least, uncomfortable for all parties involved. Seligman’s screenplay is wondrous in its simplicity. It doesn’t stretch itself further than it needs to by fitting the entirety of the film in one location. 

The tone is claustrophobic and full of tension yet at its heart, it’s a comedy. This is elevated from the masterful tone shifts by Seligman that are jarring yet fitting for everything that occurs after the main titles. This is supported by the cinematography and the score which all add to a nerve racking experience. The score by Ariel Marx stands out especially due to it being akin to a film score from the horror genre. The whole film feels like it’s slowly constricting around the audience as each viewer is nervously biting their nails as they follow each plot thread to its semi-conclusion. 

It isn’t just an anxiety inducing nightmare though as it’s funny too. The humor is done well where it’s not showy yet it also just feels so relatable. A lot of it is pretty subtle with the simple inflections and deliveries of each line by the talented cast. 

Rachel Sennott is powerful as the lead protagonist by showing complexity through her indecision to her guilt and vulnerability. Molly Gordon (someone I’ve been following since she stood out in her roles on Booksmart & Ramy) only continues to amaze in her natural skill. She’s simple and understated in her acting yet it all feels so natural. Danny Deferrari feels effortless at playing the role he plays (I don’t wanna spoil it). 

The film’s Jewish representation as well as bisexual representation succeeds in its candor. It just feels natural and unacknowledged which is something that I think a lot of films in the future will follow suit with as the new generation of young filmmakers make their way into the spotlight. I could probably go on further about my love of this imperfect yet instantly memorable film but I don’t wanna lose any readers. Just if you take anything away from this review, even if you don’t watch the movie (which you should!), just keep an eye out for Emma Seligman as she is a directorial force to be reckoned with.