South African film is a bit of a new avenue for me. In fact, sort of the existence of Charlize Theron, Trevor Noah and the films of Neil Blomkamp, South Africa is pretty underrepresented in my mental pop culture bank. Enter The Lullaby, an upcoming horror flick from Darrell Roodt, who made a name with his 1992 film Sarafina!. The Whoopi Goldberg-starring musical drama was a hit in its home country, but its shot at American success was derailed by a release simultaneous with the infamous and excessively televised LA riots.
Roodt’s filmography is impressively long and boasts a mix of drama, comedy, and the occasional horror film. As an outsider to South African film, a cursory glance through his works shows consistency in embracing South African culture, politics, and society. Watching The Lullaby, which exhibits a sheen decidedly influenced by American horror (which, in turn, is its own pastiche of international influences), I wonder if historical context could have drawn me deeper into what I found to be an effective, if familiar little chiller.
The Lullaby opens with a flashback to 1901, in which an unspecified group of women watch what appears to be a ritual sacrifice of a newborn baby. It’s a strong start, likely mired in a history of which I am uneducated, and it sets the intermittently gory tone of subsequent film. In the present day we meet Chloe (Reine Swart) a young woman who just gave birth to her first child. The paternity of the child is unknown, and Chloe, who ran away from the home she shares with her single mother (Thandy Puren), is tight lipped about what occurred during the 9 months she spent as a runaway. Shortly after the birth of baby Liam, Chloe starts having hallucinations of a spooky old woman who appears to want the young mother to Ed act harm upon her newborn. Naturally, Chloe’s mother chalks this up to any of a host is postpartum mental issues, which causes an inflammation in the existent frictions of their home life.
The horror imagery is a mixed bag of the supremely creepy and the somewhat typical, helped as often as it is hurt by clumsy punctuations of bursting score. Nonetheless, the deepest fears manifest in reaction to Swart’s impressive performance. She exhibits a corruptible innocence which suits the material well. I see in her the fears inherent to young motherhood, multiplied by the notion that her own experience as the child of a single parent has been less than savory. The relationship between she and her mother is the film’s strongest aspect, as it is the vessel through which the story’s mysteries are explored. And it’s these mysteries which serve to draw the viewer into the story much more so than any attempts at invoking fear. Just what is the connection between the opening sacrifice and Chloe’s current situation? Who is the father of this child? Why does the creepy psychologist (Brandon Auret) collect dead butterflies like some kind of Silence of the Lambs fanboy?
The Lullaby merits multiple viewings to dig into the thematic context, and as previously mentioned, a bit of a history lesson may prove fruitful as well. But all things considered this chiller is a worthwhile curiosity, chock full of unsettling imagery, that will certainly shake up those willing to tap into its groove. Doubly so if they’ve got kids.
The Lullaby opens in Philadelphia and on VOD on 3/2.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.