Inspired by her experience of becoming a new mother, writer-director Bess Wohl delivers a bundle of angst, swaddled in layers of paranoia, confusion, and salvation for her debut feature “Baby Ruby.” Noémie Merlant (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) plays Jo, a successful social media influencer and blogger who is eager, along with her husband Spencer (Kit Harington from “Game of Thrones:), to welcome baby Ruby into the world. Once the child arrives, Jo’s world spirals out of control as her life begins to mirror an Ira Levin novel.

As a parent of two, I can attest to the fear factor associated with raising a child, especially for first-time parents. It doesn’t matter how many books you read, or advice you take, it’s your first rodeo, so you worry about everything. Is this normal? Should my baby be doing that? Does she have Colic? It’s frightening being responsible for another human and like the characters in Wohl’s film, there is a “Twilight Zone” mindset that takes over. In most cases, everything works out and the baby is fine. It’s the second child you should worry about as your new self-confidence means ignoring safeguards and cutting corners. Heck, baby number two practically raises itself.

Jo and Spencer live in a beautiful home situated in a rustic tree-lined community outside of New York. She’s a vlogger with a big following and he’s an artisanal butcher. Jo is also a bit of a control freak as we watch her plan and decorate her own baby shower. The picture-perfect affair resembles a Selfie Factory, existing only to produce the perfect social media photo or video.

When Doris (Jayne Atkinson), Spencer’s mother, drops by with homemade treats, chocolate Magic Bars she calls them, they must have been made with a labor-inducing secret ingredient because later that evening Jo states, “I think it’s happening” and off to the hospital they go.

Wohl’s delivery room sequence and the scenes leading up to the couple’s departure from the hospital with baby Ruby give the impression that we’re suddenly in a Blumhouse Production; the nurse chasing them down with a mini cooler holding the placenta is a nice touch, “I thought you wanted to eat it” she comments in her best Nurse Ratched tone.

Once home, the couple’s days and nights are filled with Ruby’s incessant crying. Spencer tries to help by reading a baby self-help book (over one million copies sold!) but Jo insists, “It’s cliched advice” adding, “I can do this” as she rocks Ruby in her arms. A baby swing enters the picture but it’s just a minor help. The film is filled with a barrage of crying scenes that become an irritant to the viewer; by doing this Wohl puts us in Jo’s mindset as we empathize with the character. Suddenly her paranoia and off-the-wall reactions seem perfectly logical. Dark humor is mixed with horror as “Baby Ruby” becomes an immersive postpartum anxiety experience for the audience.

Over the course of the film, strange events begin to occur beginning with Ruby’s new compulsion that’s, well let’s just say, gnawing at the back of Jo’s mind. Then there’s the group of housewives that befriend Jo, including bubbly Shelly (Meredith Hagner) who would lead us to believe we are in Stepford, Connecticut. And finally, Spencer and Doris seem to be turning on Jo, she fears they are trying to take away Ruby (played by twins Gabriella and Lucas).

“Baby Ruby” plays like a psychological thriller blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Noémie Merlant is terrific as Jo, with a convincing performance supported by a good cast that includes Harington, and Atkinson, who, in one of the film’s best moments, shares her experience of being a new mother with Jo. With a dialogue that begins with “It’s hell,” Atkinson sends shivers as she recounts how she wished for bad things to happen to her son.

Writer-director Bess Wohl said she lost her mind when she became a mother. The film is based on her personal experience. The tone is straightforward thriller, however, had she veered off to the left just a tad we’d be talking dark comedy. There are several moments when I wanted to laugh but it felt inappropriate. ‘Baby Ruby” is probably the first film to showcase how frightening it can be as a first-time parent without the intervention of the supernatural, although there were several times, I felt that Jo should have checked Ruby’s scalp for three 6’s. Had the film been based on my child-rearing experience, the film’s hero would turn out to be a binky, which would also get an Executive Producer credit.

(3 stars)

Opens Friday at Alamo Drafthouse Denton

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Joe Friar head and shoulders

Joe Friar

Member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Latino Entertainment Journalists Association (LEJA), the Houston Film Critics Society, and a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic.