Chloe (Reine Swart) is a young woman who ran away from home in the small town of Eden Rock – a town with a dark, sordid past including mass baby killings from women raped by British soldiers. Nine months later, she returns home just in time to give birth to a baby boy who she is immediately neglectful to. Her mother, Ruby (Thandi Puren) is there to help her daughter through this difficult transition to motherhood, though she herself is accusatory and not very understanding of Chloe’s postpartum depression. In an attempt to be helpful, and unsure what else to do, Ruby sends Chloe to see a longtime friend and therapist Dr. Reed (Brandon Auret).
Chloe’s troubles are compounded when she starts seeing apparitions of a frightening old woman in a black bonnet coming for her baby. This brings Chloe out of her depression and turns her a bit psychotic as she suddenly becomes paranoid that there is danger at every turn for her child. She begins lashing out at anyone she sees as a threat to her baby, while also having intense thoughts of killing the baby herself. Untrustful of her mother, and catching a creepy vibe from Dr. Reed, Chloe turns to her old friend Adam (Deànré Reiners) for solace but has to put up with him trying to be more than friends and being forced to relieve things she’d rather forget.
The Lullaby is an indie horror from South Africa (which is why you’ve never heard of any of the actors) forcing its way into the American horror scene via Video On Demand circuit. Written by Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo and directed by Darrell Roodt, this imported horror film is… well, not very good.
The cinematography by Justus de Jager is nauseating and feels like a film school project. Everything is overly stylized with constant focus shifts meant to unnerve but come across as amateurish at best. There are moments that beautiful to look at, but then the stylization comes in and messes everything up. The opening scene looks like it was captured on a phone overwatered with sepia. Did I mention the part with the movie car that looks like it was shot on an old VHS camera from the 80s? The entire presentation is inconsistent, the constant stylizing for “creepy” effect made this hard to look at (luckily, the film is only 86 minutes, including credits, so you won’t have to suffer for long).
At the red carpet premiere I went to for this, one of the producers said they brought Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo in to write the script because they believe in her talent and that she’s simply “a great writer”. This was when I walked out of the Q&A after the film. There’s been a long-standing belief that bad films are made because they’re more likely to make money (it’s a weird backward belief, but seems to be true). This producer just proved that sometimes bad films are made because the people making them simply have no taste.
Granted, I’ve not read or seen any other scripts by Prinsloo, but the writing here wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. It was slowly-paced and loaded with tropes and contrivances of the genre, with a telegraphed “end twist” appearing so early it was almost comical. Dialogue was often weak, not to mention the almost complete lack of cohesive story elements, which anyone could see coming given the meager 86-min runtime (again, that includes the 5 minutes of credits).
Even worse, the film isn’t scary in the least, relying heavily on a) nausea-inducing focus shifts, b) distorted audio, c) jump scares, and d) gross outs. None of these things are actually frightening. One girl in the audience grabbed her boyfriend’s arm ready for a scare when we saw a shadow only to react moments later with “that was it?” That sums up my feelings about this movie pretty well; that was it?!
The only thing about this movie that deserves any credit at all is actress Reine Swart. Oscar worthy? Of course not. But she did the best she could with the material given, and had moments where she shined as a potential up-and-coming starlet with natural talent who’s still honing her craft. I look forward to seeing how she grows as an actress over the next couple projects she has in development.
Don’t bother seeing The Lullaby, at least not theatrically. While it clocks in at 86-minutes it won’t waste that much of your time, but you’ll still be left wishing for more, rolling your eyes at how obvious the scares and twists are, and in the end when the credits roll you may likely say out loud, “That was it?!”