Cut away from the rest of the movie, which is alternately harrowing and exploitative, the first 20 minutes of Marc Forster's Everything Put Together would make a terrific short film about the anxieties of an expectant mother. As she nears the birth of her first child, suburban housewife Rahda Mitchell goes through a normal routine: She visits her doctor, confers with her closest friends, arranges the crib and mobile in the baby's room, and binges on a late-night snack. But the atmosphere around her is thick with fear and dread, mercilessly primed by Forster's roving digital-video camera, which makes a common situation look more like a demented home movie. Right up until the day after she delivers a healthy son, nothing out of the ordinary happens, yet the events unfold with the grueling intensity of a horror film, kicked up by Mitchell's overwhelming panic as she approaches the end of term. Had Forster stopped there, Everything Put Together would have been a remarkably self-contained look at the inner turmoil that can accompany even an average, successful childbirth. But when Mitchell's baby dies, the film becomes more problematic, sustaining the same high level of intensity while delivering the most gratuitous shocks of its kind since The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. As Mitchell sinks into grief, Forster gets certain details right, such as the way her husband (Justin Louis) tries gently and futilely to coax her back to normalcy, while her fickle friends, each with children of their own, withdraw from her altogether. She's pressured to get over it, but no one will even acknowledge what happened, let alone offer consolation; in a particularly devastating scene, her loved ones pack up the baby's room for storage before she gets home from the hospital. But Forster's hyper-real approach is both the film's greatest asset and its most troubling liability. Time and again, he falls back on sadistic fake-outs designed to rattle the audience for no better purpose than to wrench their emotions in one direction or another. When Mitchell goes into labor, he makes it seem premature, so it's a surprise to see her deliver a healthy boy, and an even bigger surprise when the newborn dies. The rug-pulling continues later, with a silhouette shot that makes Mitchell look like she's hanged herself, and a visit to the morgue in which the doctor hauls the wrong baby out on a slab. For better and worse, Everything Put Together remains a punishing and unshakable experience, bolstered by Mitchell's nervy performance and a DV camera that seems wired into her character's subconscious. Forster doesn't let up until the last shot, but even that has disturbing implications.