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Review: Mother-daughter conflict at the heart of South African horror film ‘The Lullaby’

Reine Swart in a scene from “The Lullaby.” Credit: Vernondo Boshoff / Uncork’d Entertainment
In “The Lullaby,” Reine Swart portrays new mother Chloe, who begins seeing a ghostly crone urging her to kill her baby.
(Vernondo Boshoff / Uncork’d Entertainment)

Prolific South African filmmaker Darrell James Roodt has directed more than over 30 movies in the last 30 years, ranging from Oscar-nominated social dramas (“Yesterday”) to tawdry B-horror. “The Lullaby” — written by frequent Roodt collaborator Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo — falls into the latter category, though the veteran director has more than enough chops to keep a doggedly generic premise lively.

Reine Swart stars as Chloe, a teenage runaway who returns home — depressed and pregnant — to her disapproving, meddling mom, Ruby (Thandi Puren). Chloe’s funk deepens after she gives birth, when she begins seeing a ghostly crone urging her to slaughter the newborn baby that she’s persistently too blue to care for.

Roodt and Prinsloo borrow heavily from Roman Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Repulsion,” closely examining one woman’s paranoid anxiety. Chloe’s mysterious moods may be tied to one of the men in her life: her therapist, Dr. Reed (Brandon Auret) and/or her suspiciously kindly ex-boyfriend, Adam (Deànré Reiners).

As is often the case with movies like this, the resolution to Chloe’s story is ultimately unsatisfying — despite how vague Roodt and Prinsloo try to keep the details, all the way through to their big question mark of an ending.

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But by sticking closely to a heroine who’s skating on the edge of sanity, the film keeps the audience properly disoriented. Darkness runs deep in “The Lullaby,” rooted in the never-ending conflict between mothers and daughters.

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‘The Lullaby’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

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Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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