There is no bond on Earth like the one between mother and child. Mothers protect. Mothers nurture. Mothers nourish. They teach, and they aid. Their singular goal, it seems, is to ensure that the next generation survives and thrives. To that end, and at times to their detriment, mothers will often take the brunt of a child’s rage. They’ll defend the seemingly indefensible and defy cold logic to make the world a safe and just place for the young. Indeed, mothers are the superheroes of everyday life. So what does it mean when your mother is continually suffering from visions of brutally murdering you when you are a helpless infant?
Director Darrell Roodt’s The Lullaby (2018) doesn’t attempt to answer that question so much as explore it in gruesome, heart-breaking detail. The Lullaby is the story of Chloe van Heerden (Reine Swart), a 19-year-old woman who suddenly returns to her mother’s home in Eden Rock after having run away months before. Chloe has come home pregnant and ready to deliver. When her son, Liam, is born, Chloe’s first instinct is rejection. She turns her face away when her mother Ruby (Thandi Puren) attempts to hand her the newborn in the delivery room. However, it is when the grandmother, mother, and baby return home from the hospital that things begin to spiral out of control.
As Ruby attempts to coax Chloe into accepting the role of mother as putting the needs of the child ahead of her own, disturbing visions and mysterious manifestations start to occur. Chloe has nightmarish hallucinations of herself mutilating Liam when she goes to clip his fingernails. She also imagines dumping the screaming infant into a freezer where he suffocates and freezes to death. Although these scenes are graphic on-screen, it is the fact that Liam is helpless and that the perpetrator is his mother that most make these images horrifying. Chloe herself is horrified by them. Her imaginings are so real, so vivid, that she is continuously convinced that she has harmed her infant son.
Out of concern for both Liam and Chloe, Ruby goes to see her psychiatrist friend, Timothy Reed (Brandon Auret). It is from him that Chloe eventually learns her visions might not be post-partum depression so much as the evil influence of her hometown, Eden Rock. Many years previous, the people who lived in the town believed that killing newborn children who were the result of rape was the only way to escape the stain of rape. Rape, they thought, was worse than murder. It is this distant past that haunts Chloe and her baby.
Written by Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo, The Lullaby‘s horror is multi-level. It’s not only the graphic visions that Chloe experiences. It’s not just the creepy presence from the past that Chloe senses around her. Prinsloo has crafted a script that dives deep into its main character’s hell. It also manages to explore what are probably the more intangible and psychological horrors of womanhood: rape, shame, unwanted pregnancy, the burden of caregiving, and the loneliness of a daughter estranged from her mother, just to name a very few. There is much to unpack from this story, and I am confident that there’s much more to it that your humble reviewer missed merely because I am male. This is not to say that The Lullaby is strictly a horror movie for women. I found it horrifying as well. Also, it was directed by a man. I mean only that I think there are things in this story that women will relate to on a much more personal level than men. In fact, there were moments when I wondered whether I was the right person to review this movie. I still have my doubts about that. I would love to read a review of this movie from the perspective of a female reviewer.
My sole criticism of The Lullaby is the opening scene, which reveals a hint of Eden Rock’s history as it relates to the murder of infants. Set in the past, the entire scene has a grainy film filter applied to it, which one supposes is meant to indicate that the events occur in history. The Lullaby is not the first film to use this technique, but it wouldn’t bother me if it were the last. Costuming and set are enough to indicate that events are occurring in a period other than the present. If filmmakers genuinely believe we need an indicator that time has shifted between a cold open and the introduction of the main character, the simple appearance of “100 years later…” on-screen at fade-in should be enough.
That said, The Lullaby is one of the most horrifying films I’ve seen this year. It’s available on video-on-demand March 2. If you’re a horror fan who has somehow missed out on celebrating Women in Horror Month 2018, giving The Lullaby a chance to mess with you would be great penance.