February 22, 2012 1 Comment
Following a traumatic experience with a dangerous ex, single mother Anna (Noomi Rapace) arrives at an anonymous apartment block on the outskirts of Oslo with her son, Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring). Forced by the social workers assigned to her case to send her son to school and let him sleep in his own bed, Anna purchases a Babycall from friendly sales assistant Helge (Kristoffer Joner) so that she can keep tabs on him at night, fearful that witness protection might not be enough. When the Babycall begins picking up strange screams that are almost definitely not eminating from Anders, Anna begins to suspect that there is abuse taking place elsewhere in the residence. Not wanting to arouse any unwarranted suspician from the social workers, Anna enlists the help of Helge in solving the mystery of the overheard screams.
Having surrendered the eponymous Girl to American audiences and given Sherlock Holmes a run for his intellect, Noomi Rapace drops the piercings and gypsy attire for a decidedly more stripped down performance in this confused Norwegian chiller. Don’t let the cutesy name fool you, director Pål Sletaune has crafted an eerily effective psychological thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. Well, for two thirds of its running time at least.
The set-up is accomplished, with the threatening presence of Anders’ violent father looming over every scene, the starkness of the apartment block and the conspirational tone set by the insidious social workers and hostile teachers culminating in an unease that has you shifting uncomfortably in your seat long before the titular Babycall is even introduced. The intrigue only builds when Anna’s protective nature is met with anonymous screams and stolen glances of a bodybag being removed by van. Her turmoil is intoxicating, her struggle endlessly sympathetic and her curiosity ruthlessly compelling.
At first, the arrival of colour is shocking: the noxious orange of Helge’s uniform, the startling red of blood smearing her son’s muted drawing and the jacket of an enigmatic youngster claiming to be Anders’ school friend. As it becomes increasingly clear that Anna’s perspective is anything but reliable, her desperation escalates as she tries to solve the crime before she loses her mind completely. It is here that the film throws its most memorable punch: as Anna returns to a previously visited lake only to find a car park in its place, the lake never having existed in the first place.
At this point Sletaune has the audience in the palm of his hand, at his mercy, as they await the inevitability of the explanation – an explanation that sadly never comes. At first a simple murder mystery, the film developes expertly into a psychological thriller; but it doesn’t stop there, however, and transforms awkwardly into a half-baked ghost story, Anna’s delusions apparently freed from her control as they run rampant over the carefully plotted narrative. Refusing to address this turn of events in anything but the vaguest of terms, the film is brought to a close with a glaring plot hole defying any semblance of a satisfaction or closure.
A beautifully executed thriller for the majority of its running time, Babycall is sadly marred by contrivance and confusion. In what could have been a tense and involving take on an old horror trope, fine performances and a haunting atmosphere are sadly squandered on a story that simply doesn’t make any sense.