out of Five
Running time: 96
Atmospheric and impressively shot, Babycall has an intriguing premise and a terrific central performance from Noomi Rapace, but it's badly let down by an unconvincing and frustrating denouement that essentially cheats its audience.
What's it all about?
Directed by Pal Sletaune (Next Door), Babycall is a Norwegian thriller set on a modern day Oslo housing estate. Noomi Rapace stars as Anna, a single mother fleeing her abusive ex-husband, who moves into a run-down apartment building with her eight year old son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring). Over-protective and increasingly paranoid, Anna buys a Babycall monitor so she can listen to Anders' room at night, but when she hears what sounds like a boy being abused and possibly killed on the monitor, she becomes increasingly disturbed.
When Anna attempts to return the Babycall monitor, she begins a friendship with Helge (Kristoffer Joner), the lonely electronics store clerk who sold it to her, and the two begin spending time together. Meanwhile, social workers (Stig R Amdam and Maria Bock) persuade Anna to let Anders return to school, where he befriends a mysterious boy his own age (Johannes Swensen Hoeg).
Noomi Rapace is terrific in a role that's about as far away from Lisabeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) as it's possible to get, with her straggly hair, her nervous, shuffling walk and her ever-present Bianca Jackson-style puffa jacket; she's also genuinely heart-breaking as we fear for her sanity and detect a glimmer of hope in her burgeoning relationship with Helge. Joner is equally good as the sweet-natured store clerk (himself a smothered mummy's boy, he divides his time between work and the hospital where he looks after his terminally ill mother) and there's strong support from both Werring and Hoeg.
Sletaune maintains a strong sense of atmosphere throughout and is good at building tension, even though we're never actually sure what the threat is. The film is also impressively shot by cinematographer John Andreas Andersen, who makes strong use of the housing block location and its surroundings.
The main problem with the film is that it completely falls apart in the final act with a denouement that's both frustrating and unconvincing. It also seems to cheat the audience in a fairly significant way by having – and skip to the end now if you want to avoid spoilers – Helge witness elements of Anna's delusion that turn out not to be real. There's actually quite a clever twist at the heart of Babycall (that the one thing you think is a delusion turns out to be real), but the script ultimately devalues that idea by piling on too many narrative inconsistencies.
Babycall is worth seeing for Noomi Rapace's terrific central performance, but it's let down by a frustrating finale.