Review: Babycall (2011)

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Cast: Noomi Rapace, Kristoffer Joner, Vetle Ovenild
Director: Pal Sletaune
Country: Norway | Germany | Sweden
Genre: Horror | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Babycall arrives on North American DVD and VOD on July 4th as “The Monitor”

The final Scandinavian production graced by the presence of Noomi Rapace before her departure for Hollywood stardom in Prometheus and more to come, Babycall arrives amid a torrent of thriller imports from Norway and Sweden, hoping to capitalise on the growing appetite for more substantial genre fare. Rapace plays Anna, an abused young woman who, together with her eight year old son, enters the witness protection scheme to escape her violent husband. Her palpable paranoia only grows more desperate when the baby monitor she purchases to keep watch over her son begins picking up the sounds of struggle from another apartment in her large complex.

She is a fragile creature, her understandable protectiveness of her child and panicked fears finding an involving intensity in the meekness Rapace brings to the role. The considerable juxtaposition between the steely resolve of her performance in the Millennium trilogy and her crumbling hysteria here is indicative of Rapace’s tremendous range, and a sure promise of yet more great work to come.

It would be difficult for Anna to be any more different from Rapace’s most famous character, her subjugation under the brutality of a domineering male figure precisely the kind of thing Lisbeth Salander might have met with a makeshift tattoo kit. She is a fragile creature, her understandable protectiveness of her child and panicked fears finding an involving intensity in the meekness Rapace brings to the role. The considerable juxtaposition between the steely resolve of her performance in the Millennium trilogy and her crumbling hysteria here is indicative of Rapace’s tremendous range, and a sure promise of yet more great work to come. In Babycall she finds an impressive match in the work of Kristoffer Joner, who plays an employee in the store where she purchases the titular appliance and with whom she begins an uncertain friendship. Joner’s face belies a compassion akin to our own for Anna, a genuine sympathy born of worried pity for the plight of this woman.

Director Pål Sletaune brings an eerie overtone to the film, the sudden cracklings of the baby monitor in the dead of the night a startling shock emerging forth from the soothing silence. We find ourselves as consumed as Anna by the mystery of the apparent abuse, just as eager to discover its source and find out the horrors which lie behind whichever door hides them. Anna’s casual wandering through a nearby forest while her son is in school is shot with heedful distance, a style justified in her later discovery that the lake she observes is not really there at all. Sletaune slowly reveals the intricacies of a broken mind through building visual cues, gradually weaving the psychological aspect of the story into the aesthetic and causing us to question what we see too. Nicely taking in the faceless anonymity of Oslo’s apartment blocks and the claustrophobic enclosure of Anna’s own abode, Babycall makes full use of the talents of cinematographer John Anders Anderson, whose similarly expressive framing was part of what made Headhunters such an enticing watch. There’s a certain aloofness to his shooting style that emphasises a distance in perspective, fully supporting the uncertainty of Anna’s mental state.

Desperate to fulfil the thriller formula and close with a shocking twist, Babycall ties itself up in such a mess of meaningless knots that it can’t help but trip over itself. The conclusion, by consequence, becomes in its dissatisfying nature the film’s most memorable aspect, outweighing all the good work that preceded it.

The disquieting mystique of Sletaune’s approach is enticing, but fails to effectively mask the heap of issues the narrative begins to amass. Desperate to fulfil the thriller formula and close with a shocking twist, Babycall ties itself up in such a mess of meaningless knots that it can’t help but trip over itself. The conclusion, by consequence, becomes in its dissatisfying nature the film’s most memorable aspect, outweighing all the good work that preceded it. Less a compelling portrait of the mental imbalance domestic violence can cause, it becomes a contorted puzzle where nothing quite clicks together. It’s the perfect indication of just how talented an actress she is that Rapace manages, somehow, to rescue it all from such aching over-complication, simplifying the complexities essentially by making them less important than the study of her character’s mental state. Babycall tries so hard to shock that it forgets to make sense, and for all the good work of its leading players it struggles to negate the empty feeling of disappointment it leaves.

[notification type=”star”]60/100 ~ OKAY. Babycall tries so hard to shock that it forgets to make sense, and for all the good work of its leading players it struggles to negate the empty feeling of disappointment it leaves. [/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.