The Clinic faces an uphill climb. Everything about this film, from the lurid cover art to its shocking central premise, suggests that it is yet another Saw knockoff. Fortunately director James Rabbitts (in his feature-length debut) fights the baser instincts that would have overtaken a lesser director. He is far more concerned with the human elements of this thriller, than the myriad ways in which he can debase them.
The film opens on a couple, Beth (Tabrett Bethell) and Cameron (Andy Whitfield) as they make their way to family on Christmas Eve. When a car nearly runs them off the road, they decide to take a break and check into the only motel they can find. This place is so seedy that the manager actually charges them for 3 occupants, the third being Beth's unborn child that she is visibly pregnant with. That night, Cameron goes off in search of food only to return and find that Beth is missing. His quest to recover her will have him crossing paths with the pervy motel manager and a crooked cop.
While Cameron is out searching for her, Beth wakes up in a bathtub full of ice with a flat belly and a freshly sewn cut where her child was extracted from. As she recovers from the initial shock of what has been done to her, Beth travels down the hallways of the warehouse she's in and finds many more empty bathtubs. Pretty soon she comes across the occupants of those tubs in the form of three other women who are terrified about what has happened to their babies. As this gang of four investigates the mystery surrounding them, a shadowy figure methodically hunts them down for reasons I dare not reveal. Suffice it to say, Beth will need more than her maternal instinct in order to find and save her baby.
At its core, The Clinic is a thriller that follows through on the logical extreme to which the concept of kidnapping can be taken. I'd say ripping a baby out of its mother's belly is a fairly sickening idea but Rabbitts gets past the repulsive nature of the crime by maintaining a sharp focus on Beth's ferocious determination to save her child. The stalk and slash elements of the tale may feel tacked on but they actually make perfect sense in context. Viewed in a certain light, the killer is more desperate than truly evil. The real villain of this piece keeps their hands clean and stays out of sight for much of the running time but drips icy venom during the film's climax.
The film goes through many twists and turns, none of which I want to spoil here. It is taut and well-paced. It is also unconcerned with the audience getting ahead of the game (which I definitely did) since the tale still generates plenty of tension along the way. Besides, there are a few surprises in the finale that I sincerely doubt anyone will see coming. Rather than letting them feel arbitrary, Rabbitts uses them to simply raise the stakes again and provides Beth with enough motivation to make a final push for her life. Speaking of Beth, Tabrett's portrayal of her is the linchpin of the entire production. She is required to run through a gamut of emotions over the course of the film and she never falters. She goes from radiant to scared to determined to downright pissed off without missing a beat.
Even though I walked away from The Clinic with a much more positive impression than I could have anticipated, I must admit there were a few rough patches. For starters, Cameron's character definitely gets the short end of the stick. After setting up his panic at having lost Beth and his initial search for her, he is absent for much of the film only to make an appearance (sort of) at the very end. Also, when the killer's identity was revealed, it became that much harder to swallow the unstoppable force of nature aura that had been developed around him / her. Finally, Rabbitts' affection for Beth becomes clear based on the excessive number of endings the character (and the film) receives. Still these are minor complaints and don't take much away from what Rabbitts and his cast and crew have accomplished here.