'The Lullaby': Film Review

Crudely effective, although we've seen it all before.
3/2/2018

A new mother experiences terrifying visions in Darrell James Roodt's South African horror film.

Prospective mothers would be well advised to avoid horror films these days, since so many of them deal with the nightmarish terrors that seem to inevitably accompany having a baby. The latest example hails from South Africa courtesy of prolific director Darrell James Roodt, whose eclectic career includes credits ranging from Sarafina! to Dracula 3000. Depicting the travails of a young woman overwhelmed by the responsibilities of caring for her newborn and experiencing visions of a spectral figure intent on harming her child, The Lullaby presents a disturbing if by now overly familiar portrait of maternity gone bad.  

The story revolves around Chloe (Reine Swart), newly returned to her hometown of (symbolism alert) Eden Rock with newborn infant in tow. Her estranged mother Ruby (Thandi Puren) agrees to take her and the baby into her home, despite being less than pleased about Chloe refusing to reveal the identity of the father.

It immediately becomes clear that Chloe is hardly up to the demands of motherhood, with even such mundane tasks as breast pumping and clipping the baby's nails emerging as harrowing ordeals. Suffering from severe anxiety and depression thanks to her infant who never seems to stop crying, Chloe is soon at her wit's end. The recurring hallucinations (or are they?) she experiences, involving a crone-like elderly woman (Dorothy Ann Gould) who encourages her to kill the baby, don't exactly improve her mental state.

"My colleagues would say you're suffering from the baby blues," offers her mother's friend and therapist Dr. Reed (Brandon Avret), the sort of unctuous cinematic shrink that gives the profession a bad name. Chloe also seeks help from her solicitous ex-boyfriend (Deanre Reners), but her psychological state only continues to worsen as her waking nightmares become ever more horrific.

The director does an excellent job of setting a properly ominous mood, effectively delivering a procession of jump scares that succeed in keeping viewers on edge. Unfortunately, the screenplay by Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo proves less effective, failing to deepen the characterizations or situations in sufficiently interesting fashion. The result is that the film quickly feels repetitive, not to mention derivative of seemingly countless other similarly themed horror efforts. The storyline's sole intriguing element, linking Chloe's present-day suffering with the town's long-ago violent history as seen in a brutally violent incident shown in the prologue, never gets satisfactorily developed.

Swart, so convincingly drawn and haggard-looking that one begins to fear for her health, delivers a strong performance in the lead role. It might have been even more effective, however, if she had modulated it a bit at the beginning to better convey Chloe's emotional decline. In any case, The Lullaby presents such a vivid picture of the perils of motherhood that it could serve as an effective form of birth control.

Production company: Phoenix Films
Distributor: Uncork'd Entertainment
Cast: Reine Swart, Deanre Reinders, Thandi Puren, Brandon Auret, Dorothy Ann-Gould

Director: Darrell James Roodt
Screenwriter: Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo

Producers: Samuel Frauenstein, Andre Frauenstein
Director of photography: Justus De Jager

Production designer: Luarnae Roos
Editor: Leon Gerber

Composer: Alun Richards

87 minutes

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