Cinematic Releases - The Lullaby (2018) - Reviewed

South African auteur Darrell Roodt returns with another excursion into horror with The Lullaby.  Tackling complex themes of motherhood, sexual violence, and parental distress, this is a no holds barred approach to a tried and true horror trope.  Featuring an exceptional central performance and above-board production design, The Lullaby is an admirable addition to the horror releases of 2018.   

New mother Chloe returns to her home town to raise her child with the aid of her mother.  However, dark specters loom around her and her ward, threatening not only Chloe's sanity, but the life of her son as well.  Postpartum depression is a real afflictation that haunts thousands of mothers every year.  Tarryn Tanille-Prinsloo's script eschews mystery in the setup for a straight forward approach, diving directly into the psychological turbulence at the heart of the narrative.  A slick intro sets the stage for the danger to come, a parable of times long forgotten in which unwanted children were discarded from the collective in unspeakable ways.  While this choice tips the hand of the plot’s ultimate endgame, it allows the viewer to prepare for the plethora of uncomfortable situations to come.  This is, in essence, the film's greatest strength.  The blending of common, “all parents can relate to” subject matter with the insidious nature of supernatural incursions is palpable, made real by Jose Losper's art direction.  The home should be a sanctum of peace and renewal, however within Roodt's den of iniquity there is no respite.  Precarious parental situations continue to build as Chloe's psyche continues to unravel and the result is not only unsettling, it is also accusatory in the best possible way.


Reine Swart's turn as Chloe is essential.  The rest of the film does not work without her sinewy performance, reveling in grindhouse clich├ęs and modern mother expectations.  The failures of parenthood; the daily battles of concession and self-realization are made real in the cursed rooms of Chloe's house.  Swart glides through each scene, drifting between murderous matriarch and revitalized protector with each unspeakable confrontation. 

Justus de Jager's murky cinematography is the perfect accoutrement.  The Lullaby exists out of time, with vintage sets and lonely forests dominating the optics and his ability to capture the mayhem is subtle when required and egregious on command, the perfect recipe for a memorable horror experience.  While certain aspects of the film are telegraphed and perhaps frustratingly vague, this is the kind of film that rewards its viewer with patience, particularly with respect to the final act.  The violence is fast, and uncomfortable, accenting Roodt's maternal fairy tale with gouts of blood and viscera as the lines of reality and psychosis drift perilously close.

Coming to digital on demand Friday, March 2nd, The Lullaby is a solid entry in a genre overstuffed with knockoffs and retreads.  If you're interested in a tightly edited, condensed package of terror, this is the perfect choice for a midnight viewing.  While minor flaws show throughout, the commanding central performance of Swart and Roodt’s overwhelming proficiency more than belies these imperfections.

--Kyle Jonathan