Thursday, 29 March 2012

Babycall (Pål Sletaune, 2011) Review

Noomi Rapace stars in the snaky chiller/thriller Babycall (2011)...

There's a reason why you've probably never heard of Babycall, writer/director Pål Sletaune's creepy psychosis drama, and that's because it has the least imaginative marketing team in the world. Just look at the evidence. Firstly there's that clunkily translated title which completely fails to establish interest, suggesting something childish or family-oriented. Then there's the embarrassingly generic poster, indicating nothing of plot, genre or tone, and instead relying on the face of its not-quite-A-list star, Noomi Rapace. Lastly there's that cringy tagline - how far would you go for the ones you love? - which is so trite, it almost suggests parody. I won't even go into the J-flavoured trailer, which makes the film look like some kind of cheap, twitchy Ju-On (Shimizu, 2002) knock-off. They might as well have called it We Need To Talk About Anders.

An outlining of its plot might not help matters either, but be aware that Sletaune's chiller has several more tricks up its sleeve than I'm willing to reveal here, and for the most part it's an effectively low-key, often thought-provoking little picture. The basic synopsis goes thusly: single mother Anna (Rapace) relocates her 8-year-old son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) to the outskirts of Oslo, in an attempt to escape from an abusive ex-husband. Located in the middle of a listless tower block, her new apartment's blank interior perfectly reflects Anna's mousy, introverted persona; we imagine her palms sweating constantly, and her soft brown eyes flickering around every corner, eternally paranoid. To make matters worse our fraying protagonist, whose own sanity and stability is called into question after some erratic, semi-schizo behavior, is under close observation from social services, who seem intent on taking Anders away from her. She smothers him with her own anxieties, thinking that a home education will suffice over a state one, and awkwardly forcing him to share her bed (nothing untoward is suggested, but the imagery remains unnerving). It's quite a classical horror movie setup, but Babycall amounts to much, much more than that, and digs below its own sterile surface to explore the complex emotional boundaries of its characters...

Specifically, Babycall could be said to be about the fractured, lonely souls living on society's fringe, afraid to let death define their lives. Anna eventually goes looking for a babycall (baby monitor), and in the electronics store strikes up an awkward conversation with Helge (Kristoffer Joner), a shy gentleman whose mother is dying in hospital. Sadness exudes from these characters, who are attracted to one another by an emotional void which the other might be able to fill. A beautifully judged dinner date explores their reticence, as shades of memory are evoked in a way which feels non-expository, but of course is. Helge reminisces about his youth, recalling his mother's obsessive health concerns, and drawing parallels with Anna's excessive worrying. Of course, we know that she's actually much worse. We've observed her agitation when waiting outside the school gates, counting down the seconds until she can once again hold her son in her arms. But her instincts about Helge ("you're nice") afford Anna some degree of trust in her new environment, and as a result she extends the leash of her son's freedom. It is during these scenes that we really warm to Anna, who could've easily become unlikable in lesser hands than Rapace's - it's her sensitivity, her affection and loyalty, which really let us sympathize with the character.

This sympathy is key to the success of Babycall's latter-half plot developments, as Sletaune begins to ratchet up the tension, slithering between genres with extraordinary precision and grace. The film slips from kitchen-sink drama to suburban chiller without us ever noticing - there's no string-fronted score to emphasize the mounting horror, which we instead grasp through Rapace's panicked gestures and the diluted, blue-hued palette of DP John Andreas Andersen. The film's horror angle is introduced naturalistically, as Anna overhears cries for help from a rogue frequency on the babycall, but a subplot involving a pervy social worker is less developed, and feels like little more than a tacky device on which to pivot a final twist. It's a shame that, in its final fifteen minutes, Babycall completely loses it marbles, piling on twist after clichéd twist, and each as senseless as the last. It's especially disappointing when considering just how finely crafted the first hour was, and how carefully its characters were sketched. For his finale Sletaune introduces ideas of the supernatural, unthreading all of the taut rope which had held his plotting together, and not one frame of it makes a lick of sense. Without wishing to give anything away, the final freeze-frame, looking over a tranquil river where a mother lays a blanket out for her son, forced me to ram a fistful of knuckles into my mouth, as it was all I could do to stop myself from screaming. It's rare that a film of such quiet restraint, thoughtfulness and visual wit could downturn so quickly, and erase almost every ounce of goodwill I'd previously held for it. Babycall achieves this feat with such dizzying abandon that I could have sworn this was its sole purpose all along...

Babycall is released into UK cinemas on March 30th...


  1. Babycall movie is full of horror and thriller good job done Noomi Rapace and Kristoffer Joner.

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