Writer-director Emma Seligman’s loosely autobiographical debut feature Shiva Baby is a concise yet all-encompassing snapshot of the zeitgeist generations’ intersectional anxieties compounded by nihilism and existentialism. In this claustrophobic dramedy confined within one day and one house, Seligman’s meaty characterisation of its nervously seductive protagonist Danielle (Rachel Sennott) hooks us into the multitudes of Jewish family dramas and interpersonal dilemmas.

At a post-funeral shiva gathering, Danielle’s parents and acquaintances keep crossing her physical and mental boundaries by taking turns to ask probing questions about her career and personal life – the sensorial intensity of which is only heightened by her blood-rushing encounters with both her ex-girlfriend and her sugar daddy. Sennott plays Danielle so viscerally and convincingly that it is self-evident she draws from her real-life emotions, perspectives and experiences to exert relatability and authenticity on her erotic, chaotic performance.

As the film stalks Danielle’s messy attempts at hiding her sugaring, cinematographer Maria Rusche cements the omnipresent cringe in the close-ups bursting with Sennott’s facial contortions and pent-up exasperations. Rusche also aptly applies handheld tracking shots that lead us along Danielle’s panic loop all over the shiva house – a nightmarish maze saturated with ghostly interior lighting and echoed with composer Ariel Marx’s perceptively eerie score. Towards the film’s climax, an excruciating sense of terror derives from its audiovisual escalations while overshadowing its antsy humours.

Created by a female-dominated crew, Shiva Baby is a genre mixture of dark comedy and covert horror – a fitting allegory of the feminine psyche’s grey areas of insecurity, jealousy and power struggles. As the film constantly brings clamours about Danielle’s eating disorder to the fore, it is also an unflinching look at women’s cognitive distortions of their self-image and body image reinforced by disorienting social expectations.



CAST: Rachel Sennott, Dianna Agron, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Danny Deferrari

DIRECTOR: Emma Seligman

WRITER: Emma Seligman

SYNOPSIS: A bisexual college student attends a shiva with her parents, where she runs into both her ex-girlfriend and sugar daddy.