Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 12, 2012 12:14 am 
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The Dragon Tattoo girl quietly shines in a scary movie from Norway

Terrible psychological and physical suffering lie behind the vision and experience depicted in this quiet horror film that provides proof that Noomi Rapace of the Dragon Tattoo movies is just as remarkable in any project she takes on. Some may find the material slight, and it is. But within its limitations Sletaune's film carries a load of discomfort and a deep sense of how traumatic history can be a prison from which its victims can't escape. Actually done before Rapace's unflattering Sherlock Holmes appearance, this one shows how she can take charge of a screen. Instead of the feisty lesbian-bi computer hacker genius this time she's Anna, a mother who's got somewhat shaky custody of Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring), her little boy, and moved to a big anonymous block of flats where she hopes to hide away from her abusive husband. Of course, that proves less easy than she hoped.

The social services folks don't appear on her side. They want Anders sent to school, not home schooled, and insist he not sleep in Anna's bedroom. This is why she gets the baby monitor, AKA babycall, to keep close track of her son in the other bedroom. It's when screams and cries for help come mysteriously into the monitor, but not from Anders, that she and the audience, if they'r following along, will get thoroughly weirded out. She appears totally isolated. Her only ally is Helge (Kristoffer Joner), the guy who sold her the gadget. He's a lonely guy too, and starts trying to date her, though she turns out to be a handful. Not so helpful is Ole (Stig Amdam), the male social servie person, who shows predatory tendencies.

I'd not disagree too strongly with Variety critic Jay Weissberg's assessment that this film "needs more time in script kindergarten." This indeed is the film's Achilles heel -- that some of the plot devices are too slapdash and arbitrary, and the Shutter Island analogy is not too far off. But it doesn't matter very much, because there is much reliance on closeups of Rapace's face, which by itself modulates the mood from nervous to frantic so subtly that it creeps right up on us. A minor effort from most points of view, this is nonetheless both an excellent little film for fans of claustrophobic psychological horror and a showcase of Noomi Rapace's mastery of character. it's really nice to see a thriller that doesn't rely at all on loud noises or special effects, that keeps us aware that the trouble is inside its protagonist's head.

Babycall debuted at the Rome Film Festival in November 2011, when Rapace understandably received the acting award, and was shown at some other festivals, then opened theatrically in the UK March 30, 2012 and France May 2. It is scheduled for US release July 24. Millennium and psych thriller fans should be very pleased. Others need not apply.

Screened for this review at MK2 Hautefeuille, Paris, May 11, 2012.

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