Review: Babycall (2011)

Anna (Noomi Rapace) and her eight year old son, Anders (Velte Qvenild Werring), are moved to a modest apartment block on the outskirts of Oslo as part of the witness protection program. Scared to death by the violent past she’s escaped, Anna takes no risks with Anders, protecting him from all elements, even the draft.

As she starts to warm to her surroundings, she purchases a baby monitor from a friendly salesman, Helge (Kristoffer Joner), as a way of allowing Anders some breathing space while obeying Child Services’ strict rules. However, when she starts to hear disturbing noises through the monitor that aren’t coming from Anders, her paranoia resurfaces and it soon becomes apparent that all it not as clear-cut as it may seem.

While it would be easy for Babycall to slip into a normal pattern of predictable scares and cheap thrills, writer and director Pål Sletaune does his utmost to inject some much-needed originality into his screenplay. Fortunately for Sletaune, this shines through with moderate success. Babycall mostly maintains its eerily tense and mysterious mood as Anna’s hysteria develops.

Sletaune, with the undoubted aid of the production designer and cinematographer, does well to use the limited and desolate terrain to accentuate Anna’s ever-hallucinating mind, cleverly blurring the line between dreams and reality so we, the audience, are as much in the dark as Anna and her new friend Helge. The vast open spaces of the outdoors beautifully reflect the discomfort Anna feels outside the four walls of her apartment.

Unfortunately, as the film hits the midway point and efforts are ramped up to ensure it doesn’t overstay its welcome, some of the tension and claustrophobia that was so well instilled is lost. Not only does this make the latter half feel a little out of place when compared to the well-maintained trajectory of the build-up, but it also sheds light on some of the cracks that had been cleverly skimmed over as puzzle pieces fail to come together succinctly.

That said, the use of baby monitor adds a fantastic level of ingenuity to Babycall, and the fact Sletaune resists the obvious temptation to slip into cliché mode makes this a more thought-provoking psychological piece than horror fare. Rapace does well to ensure Anna doesn’t become the stereotype over-protective mother, instead using her exemplary skills to make her compassionate and empathetic, which allows the audience to fully invest and believe in her turbulent emotional journey.

While it may fail to hold its tenure as a fraught, tense and intuitive psychological drama due to the criss-crossing narrative elements that bewilder more than enthrall, Babycall is nonetheless brought to life by Rapace’s strong performance and the tyrannical world it creates to possess Anna’s ever-decaying mind and soul. At its heart, it’s a frequently smart film about the lengths a mother would go to in order to protect her son from the world’s evil.

This review was originally posted on HeyUGuys.

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