Best saved for one excessively dreary evening, Darrell Roodt’s intense ‘The Lullaby’ mixes some seriously dark subject material with some modern horror chills to deliver a tense 90 minute ghost story with a psychological tinge.
The synopsis: Chloe is overwhelmed by the birth of her first child. The incessant crying of her baby, the growing sense of guilt and paranoia sends her into depression. With a heightened urge to protect her son, Chloe sees danger in every situation. She starts to hear voices, the humming of a childhood lullaby and sees flashes of a strange entity around her child. Convinced that the entity is real, Chloe will do everything in her power to protect her son. Is she haunted by evil or is it just the baby blues?
As I eluded to in my opener the plot flirts with themes and direction. At the start I figured that ‘The Lullaby’ was going down the route of a typical supernatural haunting style of film, especially as in an interesting opener there is a heavy emphasis put on the rural town’s past and the link to British occupation (this is a South African film so presumably during the Boer war?), the rape of devout Christian women and the subsequent ‘disposal’ of the illegitimate babies, however, once the film gets going there is a greater development of Chloe’s character as she wrangles with her own sanity, difficult history and the safety of her newly born baby boy against this violent threat.
Whilst initially I was struggling to settle with the film I quickly realised that this movie was not going to give me the instant gratification in scares I have become recently accustomed to and was ultimately far better off for it in the long run. This is a slow burn, but without sacrificing pace, it has all the ingredients of a modern supernatural chiller, but with some more traditional style of characters written in. It has some gore, but not too much so as to become gratuitous, and when you consider the film is predominantly about infanticide and child abuse, it manages to be impacting, without becoming untasteful.
The scripting is ok, a little cliché in parts, but I just went with it. The acting is strong throughout with each of the small cast delivering the goods when it mattered. Reine Swart who plays Chloe gets much of the run time to herself and does well to contend with a largely diverse set of personas and scenarios from mopey teenager drenched in self-pity, to an outright psychopath in the films rollercoaster conclusion. In contrast (and my particular favourite character) Brandon Auret plays a more traditional psychiatrist and plays his role of psychological crutch and manipulator perfectly - calm, calculated and menacing. Very well casted indeed. I loved his scenes, and again, occasional clunky script aside, his gloomy office provided the perfect backdrop for some exposition and ‘pschobabble’.
Indeed, gloomy sums this film up perfectly, and the best component for me was the atmosphere created but the constant strife the characters would have to endure, the washed-out pallet of colour used to extenuate the mood and the isolation of not only the family house but the small insular community within which the film is set. Its not so depressive you want to turn it off, but I was surprised how drawn into the whole affair I was, indeed, had it not been for the CGI ghost who made an appearance here and there, I would have figured ‘The Lullaby’ for a dark drama.
Talking of ghosts, well there isn’t much to say if I’m honest, compared to other elements of the film, the modern and telegraphed jump scares sequences come off slightly more ‘typical’ and in all honesty they struggle to hold up to the high standard set by the other elements of the film. Its not to say there isn’t the occasional effective jolt, but they are quickly forgotten. Still, it is a horror film, and if you manage to get to see this title during its cinema run they will no doubt entertain.
Overall, I was impressed by this dark piece of cinema. Its oppressive atmosphere gets under your skin, an interesting story keeps your interest and a strong cast ensure that Chloe’s ordeal won’t be quickly forgotten.