❉ Iain MacLeod reviews the South African horror hit, out now on VOD.
At first glance The Lullaby comes across as an interesting curio. A South African horror kicking off with a brutal sequence detailing the British occupation of a small town in the early twentieth century and the awful fate that befell the illegitimate offspring of the women who were sexually assaulted by the British soldiers. One would expect after this opening sequence a film that would explore the effects of this chapter in history and its lasting legacy to this day.
However, director Darrell Roodt disregards all of this immediately and instead concentrates on the present-day story of Chloe, played by Reine Swart, a young mother who has just delivered a baby herself and returned home after a mysterious absence. Reine experiences visions of a spectral figure which drives her already shaky mental state into overdrive much to the concern of her mother and the interest of family friend and psychologist Dr Reed, played by Brandon Auret, taking a break here from playing the villain in Neil Blomkamp’s films.
If I never see another pale faced, shrieking ghost covered with black lipstick who appears out of nowhere to the strains of a loud, screeching soundtrack it will still be too soon. Unfortunately, this film offers that overused trope from the likes of films like Insidious and The Woman In Black again and again. Other clichés come thick and fast, jump scares that carry no weight and the film tries its hand at disturbing imagery involving scenes of infant peril and injury too much and too often. These scenes should disturb and shock the viewer but their repetitiveness just makes the film an experience in loud tediousness. A perfect example of this comes in a scene involving clipping the baby’s nails, this should be a scene building in suspense, inducing the tension as it goes along but it goes straight to the gory money shot which is further marred by its poor special effects.
It is this insistence on trying to shock the viewer that marks the film out as cynical. Although the director has made a number of horror films before, including the Coolio classic Dracula 3000, he seems to only have a very basic understanding of how horror cinema works, trading only in loud jump scares and pointless gore. There are some scenes that show if he handled the shocks and scares more subtly then there could be a neat little film here. Some scenes handle shifting perspectives in time with impressive editing and the camera work sometimes shows inventiveness, particularly in one shot that simply follows the path of an outstretched hand and a night time scene showing Chloe running through the mist under yellow street lights adds a much-needed injection of style to the proceedings.
This small bit of good will soon vanishes once you realise that the script is empty, there is next to no characterisation here for the small cast asides from the character of Dr Reed who couldn’t be more mysteriously sinister unless he had the words “I’m sinister!” tattooed on his forehead. What could have been an interesting look at post-natal depression through a supernatural lens is soon revealed as nothing more than a cheap excuse to revel in sexual violence, not once but twice and in needlessly quick succession. Sadly, the film descends into predictable hysteria and a baffling final shot that further muddles its already shaky intentions.
There is nothing to recommend here apart from the fact that if you are interested in looking at some South-African horror cinema check out Dust Devil if you haven’t seen it already. That’s good. The Lullaby is not.
❉ ‘The Lullaby’ was released on 2 March 2018 in selected theatres.
❉ Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.