Fails to deliver scares or excitement consistently enough to be considered a success.
Coming from writer/director Pål Sletaune, Norwegian psychological thrill Babycall has the pull of starring original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Noomi Rapace, and a creepy premise which fails to deliver scares or excitement consistently enough to be considered a success.
Single mother Anna (Rapace) is on the run from her abusive husband, with young son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) in tow. Holing up in a bleak, sparse apartment block in Oslo, the pair attempt to live their lives as normally as possible, despite Anna’s desperately paranoid demeanour. Buying a baby monitor (or “babycall”), in order to monitor Anders at night, Anna soon begins to hear horrifying screams through the device, and what sounds like a young child in extreme distress. Encountering kindly shop assistant Helge (Kristoffer Joner), a loner who has problems of his own, a tentative friendship is embarked upon.
The setting is an unsettlingly impersonal one, with every road, building and location looking alike. The city is presented as a bleak landscape, and the Oslo tourist board seem to have their work cut out for them if the reality matches what we see here. This is an effective tool in terms of setting up the tone of the film – the major themes here reflect on the loneliness and paranoia that are almost thrust upon the characters. Certainly the scenes between Anna and Helge encapsulate this neatly, with a few genuinely touching moments, sweet yet tinged with tragedy.
Sadly, for all the hard work that goes into establishing a tone, the script fails to step up. A disjointed and clichéd affair, we are never as interested as the film wants us to be, due to the frustratingly obscure screenplay. The film often seems to be trying too hard to be cerebral, throwing so many lame half-twists at us that we eventually give up trying to knit things together into a cohesive story, with many of the third-act revelations contradicting each other to an unforgivable degree. The twists are predictable, and this sadly leads to the film as a whole coming off as rather dull.
It’s a shame, because the two leads are excellent. Rapace is typically intense and hypnotic as a desperate woman trying to cling onto the last shreds of life, and Joner is understated and affecting as a man facing tragedy with dignity. Two performances of this standard deserve a better script, increasing the frustration further.
Disappointing, then, that Babycall could not quite live up to that chilling premise, and the spooky trailer that preceded it. With two strong leads, a well-build tone and some very unsettling moments, this could have been so much more interesting than it is - a real shame.