|Image: Soda Pictures|
Arriving on UK screens with little fanfare, it’s probably safe to assume that the reason why this Norwegian chiller landed a theatrical release here is its star Noomi Rapace. That’s not to say that the film is undeserving, but we imagine the distributors are banking on the recognisable face and undeniable talent of Ms. Rapace to draw in the cinemagoers.
Rapace stars as Anna, a single mum who has been moved into a new apartment with her son by social services. Her abusive ex doesn’t know where they are but Anna is clearly still traumatised. She refuses to let Anders out of her sight, even to go to school. When social services threaten action, she relents and buys a baby monitor, or Babycall, and lets Anders sleep in his own room. But the Babycall starts picking up sounds of a child in distress and Anna begins to wonder what’s real and what’s in her imagination.
Babycall is a well-made thriller from writer-director Pål Sletaune that benefits greatly from a superb performance from Rapace. The actress gets to show off her range with a vulnerable, fragile turn. While she’s best known for playing the fiercely strong and independent Lisbeth Salander, she’s terrific here as a damaged woman unsure of herself, attempting to open her life up and start again but constantly terrified of what might happen if she lets her guard down for even a moment.
There are some very-well played scenes between Anna and the shy Helge (Kristoffer Joner), the man she meets at the electronics store. Like Anna, Helge is a little socially awkward and has trauma in his past. The tentative courtship between these two nervous people is nicely played and well-written and it helps to give the film a centre to root for.
But things fall apart as Sletaune introduces the supernatural element. While his restrained approach works quite well for the first hour or so (Dark Water is a clear influence), it can’t hide the fact that the pieces don’t quite fit together. As the film finds Anna increasingly confused and unmoored, Sletaune can’t keep his grip on the several subplots and possible red herrings. Finally there’s an ending that you might see coming but that certainly doesn’t fit into the puzzle of the rest of the film.
When it’s a relationship drama, Babycall is very well acted, well observed, and well written. But the central mystery slips out of the filmmakers grasp and makes for a disappointing finish to an enjoyably subdued film.
See it for the first hour and for a wonderful performance from Noomi Rapace. It’s just a shame that the final act doesn’t fit in with what came before it.