Anna (Noomi Rapace) and her son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) are on the lamb from Annas abusive and meddlesome husband. Following a sketchy and clearly horrifying attack, both Anna and Anders are relocated to a remote housing estate in Norway. Clearly affected by what has happened, Anna struggles to adjust, and is encouraged to integrate herself and her son into a normal life by child services. Anna soon finds solace in the use of a baby monitor facilitating a distance between mother and son during bedtime hours. However, this newfound comfort is short lived, as Anna finds that the baby monitor is picking up more than just the sounds of her son sleeping someone or something is crying for help. There is a small cluster of countries in the Northern reaches of the EU, which are fast becoming a cinematic dark horse. Not to sound ignorant or naïve, but it is probably fair to say that Sweden and Norway share something of an amalgamated identity as filmmakers. At a push one can probably state that The Millennium Trilogy is definitely Swedish and Troll Hunter is obviously Norwegian. But what about Let The Right One In? Sweden or Norway? And how about Headhunters? Truth be told, most of these films are made in partnership between funding bodies in both countries. It is fine to split hairs if you really must, but in all honesty its like arguing over whether Trainspotting is Scottish or English. Babycall is a true example of this identity crisis part Norwegian, part Swedish, and surely the best of both? Well, not quite.
From director Pål Sletaune, Babycall feels like a project determined to break the international market. It lacks any distinctly overt xenocentrism that one comes to expect from independent cinema. Sletaune is clearly aware that the more accessible the film becomes, the more likely it is to reach the majors. It is this lack of identity which is ironically pertinent to the films subject. The building in which Anna lives looks akin to that of Oskars home from Let The Right One In, yet inside it has the feel of Japanese horror like Ju-On and even the estates of Night Watch. The uniform colors and nondescript décor serves to say, This could be ANYWHERE! As a story device, Annas new home outwardly portrays the idea of anonymity, which she seeks she wishes to almost disappear from view. The unusually peach colored hallways feel semi-organic, with the endless corridors becoming almost dreamlike; cerebral, as it were. Annas universe is a relatively small one, yet Sletaune fails to acknowledge this, and passes up a perfect opportunity to explore the potential claustrophobic tension. The baby monitor premise is never explored beyond mere maguffin, and chances to be genuinely un-nerving are missed in favor exploring unnecessary plot holes. Yet despite a catalogue of missteps and sidesteps, Sletaune does manage to deliver a rewarding and fresh feeling end product.
Rapace is genuinely magnetic as the heart wrenchingly tragic, Anna. Her fragile vulnerability is radiated through tender brown eyes; drawing you into a real sense of empathy for the character. Her frantic, almost mentally incapable, portrayal is at times un-nerving to watch. There are obvious connections to her breakout performance from a certain crime trilogy, but Anna is a very different performance. Rapace brings a warm endearing quality to the character, and limits her inner beast to mild setting. Part of the more tragic moments watching Anna is witnessing just how feeble she really is, and this works perfectly. The other stand out performance, in an admittedly limited cast, is Kristoffer Joner as Helge. Joners portrayal is almost a mirror of Rapace. He is painfully shy and caring, yet he is not a victim of his surroundings. Helge provides an avenue of escape for Anna; he is her knight in shinning armor albeit an unconventional one. There is a moment when Helge and Anna share a lunchtime conversation together, and it is an interaction to rival the charm of the outtakes sequence from The Artist. Babycall is very clearly a film about the selfishness of love. Anna is a mother struggling with her boy growing into the world, and Helge is a man struggling with letting his mother leave the world. Both are fractured and socially damaged individuals who share a relationship that is almost a surrogate for what they are losing. There is a small hint of horror within the films DNA, and if you squint hard enough, one can make out flickers of inspiration from films such as The Sixth Sense and The Ring. But make no mistake; Babycall is very much a film about people and emotions. Whether you will care about those people, or experience those emotions is another story.
Babycall is set for release on Friday 30th March in UK. No release date as yet for US.
Part critic-part film maker, I have been living and breathing film ever since seeing 'Superman' at the tender age of five. Never one to mince my words, I believe in the honest and emotional reaction to film, rather than being arty or self important just for cred. Despite this, you will always hear me say the same thing - "its all opinion, so watch it and make your own." Follow me @iamBradWilliams