Motherhood: undertake it at your peril. That’s the way genre cinema plays it and often with a devilishly crooked bat. From the diabolic wrath of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen to the insane mutant tots of Eraserhead and It’s Alive via every connotation of parental nightmare on Earth and beyond, the perils of birth and babies have sent a generation of geeks screaming out of cinemas and straight to the sterilization clinic. So if you’re thinking about having kids and are still on the fence about it, it might not be so wise to see South African scare-fest Lullaby, lest it prove the final snip…
Director Darrell Roodt (Dracula 3000, City of Blood) wastes no time getting us up to speed with an introductory nightmare sequence set in 1901 featuring a screaming mother’s baby being ripped from her arms by evil cloaked bastards who snap the poor little blighter’s neck like a twig. Our heroine Chloe (Reine Swart) awakes screaming from this dreadful vison in the midst of giving birth to a baby boy. It’s fair to say mother and son don’t bond too well; he screams her to distraction, she’s tortured by her milk pump and only she knows the identity of the father (it’s probably Satan, though) and to cap it all, the poor woman from Chloe’s nightmare keeps popping up dressed like Stevie Nicks and jump-scaring her into next Thursday. No wonder her quavering mother (a pitch-perfect Thandi Puren) calls in Dr Reed (a growling Brandon Auret, seemingly channelling his character’s namesake Oliver Reed’s turn in The Brood). His advice to Chloe: “Let the visions consume you” (why doesn’t anyone ask these horror quacks for an updated CV with a least two recent references?)
Roodt confidently marks his territory with stylised nods to Polanski, Fincher and Aronofsky: artful compositions and innovative camerawork pop out at every turn; the main house set is a theatrically heighted den of spectral lighting and creaking doors; the soundtrack is a dark eddy of parched strings and eerie synths and the visual palate employs that leached pallor we’ve come to expect from modern digital horror in a way that just for once works a treat. Story-wise, The Lullaby hardly breaks the mould, content instead to revel in the sandpit of its cinematic lineage from Repulsion through to The Babadook. Performances from the central trio are uniformly excellent with a special garland to Reine Swart as Chloe who starts off shrieking her lungs out and pretty much doesn’t stop thereafter. They compensate for the only two flies in the ointment: Chloe’s drippy boyfriend Adam (who seems to have parachuted in from a daytime soap opera) and a final twist that’s clearly telegraphed by the opening sequence, if you’ve been keeping your eyes peeled.
Steeped in horror tradition and drenched in the red stuff, The Lullaby is a fiendishly nasty bit of babysitting well worth staying in for.
THE LULLABY / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: DARRELL ROODT / SCREENPLAY: TARRYN-TANILLE PRINSLOO / STARRING: REINE SWART, THANDI PUREN, BRANDON AURET, DEANRE REINERS, SAMUEL FRAUENSTEIN / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10