The Lullaby [Siembamba] (2018)

MARCH 7, 2018


I rarely write negative reviews of smaller films anymore, figuring it's a waste of my time to tell people not to bother seeing an off-the-radar movie they probably weren't going to see anyway, saving my negative energy for bigger films like Winchester - if I can prevent just one person from seeing that one, it will be worth it! But in the case of The Lullaby (titled Siembamba on-screen, but Lullaby in its marketing), I wanted to use the space to deliver some good news: I no longer get as upset about baby stuff in horror movies! From fall of 2013 (when my wife got pregnant) until about... uh, yesterday I guess, the sight of babies in harm really got to me, as I would start panicking about potential danger my own son could be in while I was watching some dumb horror movie with my phone on silent. But in the first few minutes of this thing, we see a baby get its neck broken, and throughout the film our protagonist is battling postpartum depression and in turn the instinct to kill her own son, complete with hallucinations of actually doing so - and I was fine with it!

Then again maybe I haven't gotten over my paranoia and it's just because the movie was too lousy to let it bother me. It's not like I thought Darrell Roodt, the director of Dracula 3000 and Prey, would be able to pull off one of those "Is she going crazy or is something really after her?" storylines, but even my low expectations weren't even met, as the film wasn't terrible enough to entertain. Instead it was just excruciatingly dull, failing to generate a single scare or even bit of suspense, while also (quite frustratingly!) refusing to go into crazy batshit territory that could have saved it. The term "baby blues" is used once or twice, and I couldn't help but think of that same-named film and how it dove right into things that are in very poor taste (namely, a woman murdering her children), while this one settled for an endless series of scenes where the woman just IMAGINES doing so.

The setup at least holds some promise: a young woman has a child that she doesn't seem to want (her depression kicks in the second the baby is born, in fact), and the only place she can stay is back with her mother, who she has a strained relationship with on account of running away not too long ago. She is having trouble pumping breast milk or getting the child to latch (not that we ever see this; we're just told so an hour into the movie - the baby is rarely shown doing anything but sleeping), and starts having terrible visions of the poor little guy being covered in blood, stored in a freezer, etc. For what seems like an eternity, the movie breaks down like this: she's trying to sleep, something troubles her, she checks on the baby, sees him dead, shrieks, then her mom races into the room and shows her a perfectly fine baby before reminding her about this or that rule of motherhood ("cut his nails", "let him cry it out", etc). Then the cycle resumes, with no clear indication that things are getting worse or how much time has passed in between. The actress playing the mom is fine, but she's also in "total wreck" mode from the start, which doesn't help at all as she looks no more harried at the end than she did ten minutes into the movie. You could rearrange 75% of the film's scenes and it wouldn't make any difference.

We are given precious few breaks from this routine in the form of a psychiatrist who seems to be evil, because he collects butterflies like someone out of a giallo and inexplicably encourages the older woman to leave her very rattled daughter alone with the baby, while also prescribing mysterious pills to the girl. But the script never really follows through with this element; the closest we get to a payoff is a weird look on his face during an epilogue, where she's been put in an institute for the crimes she commits during the film. They also keep teasing out the mystery of the baby's father, suggesting there might be some Rosemary's Baby-style twist to the whole thing, or maybe even the doctor himself (who seems to be fascinated by a story where the townsfolk killed a baby over a century ago). But then, near the very end of the movie we find out she was raped by a guy who she hitchhiked with, a wholly unnecessary scene that is, incredulously, followed by ANOTHER rape scene.

The rapist in this second instance is a friend named Evan who we know has been pining over her for years. In keeping with the film's tradition of dropping the ball on everything and refusing to ever go into interesting territory, he never seems to even acknowledge the baby's existence (he also never seems to notice or care that she looks sick most of the time), settling only for generic "Why don't you like me, we should be together!" MRA shit, as opposed to spending a single one of his 10-15 minutes of screentime telling us anything about him. I don't know why the filmmakers thought we needed back to back rape scenes in the third act of their supernatural story, but for the good of mankind I hope someone at least SUGGESTED perhaps spending less time on rape and more time on making anything interesting. Not that I champion such scenes in any scenario, but when they're part of a film that is grounded in character and have some true reason to exist at the time they do (Leaving Las Vegas comes to mind) I don't think twice about their inclusion. Here, it's just pointless shock value, and tells us nothing. Chloe was already having a rough life when she ran away, and unless I am very confused at how pregnancy works, she doesn't come back home until the baby is born i.e. nine months later, meaning that the attack wasn't even enough of a traumatic experience to send her running back home, realizing how much worse she could have it. It's just awful.

Luckily, the movie gets one thing right: screenwriter Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo either has a child of her own or did proper research, as they get a number of things about newborns right that you probably wouldn't think of unless you were in the thick of it. For example, one thing I didn't know until I had my own is that baby fingernails are like little Freddy razors and need to be cut constantly, as they can/will scratch themselves up good (very sensitive/still-developing skin plays a part in that), so when it was used as a scare I kind of bowed a bit of respect to the film. Likewise the various problems with pumping/latching will ring true to anyone who had to deal with it themselves; in fact a pump mishap is the closest the movie ever got to offering a genuinely good terror moment. I remember I took some shit for liking Annabelle (the first one) because it was so steeped in "I am a new parent and I am terrified about my baby being hurt" fears, so I have to wonder if a. I'll still be as enamored by the film if I watched it now that I'm better, and/or b. if I saw this three or so years ago if I'd find it more engaging.

Either way, it shouldn't take a personal paranoia for a film to work. I mean, I'm not particularly afraid of a masked killer chasing me around a mine shaft anytime soon, but I still love My Bloody Valentine. A good film's a good film, and this is a very bad one. The scares don't work, the characters are drawn thinner than most slasher victims, and the director kept throwing in pointless stylistic tics like jump cuts that only caused confusion (he also had trouble distinguishing flashback scenes from current day). Nothing about it worked, and if not for the one guy in the theater that wasn't part of my group of four, I probably would have yelled at the screen on more than one occasion. The most interesting thing about the movie, besides the somewhat catchy theme song during the end titles, is that I somehow managed to stay awake despite the fact that it didn't start until after 10pm. I should have just slept.

What say you?


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