The Lullaby is a South African horror film from director Darrell Roodt, and it boasts an interesting concept. Nineteen-year-old Chloe returns to her hometown after the birth of her firstborn, completely overwhelmed with motherhood. Though she has the support of her mother, Chloe’s mental health takes a downward spiral as she begins to experience supernatural disturbances around the house. Unfortunately, despite the potential of the story, Roodt’s film fails to effectively embrace the psychological aspect of declining mental health, a la The Babadook, instead offering an endless string of cliched scares.
Before I get into my major issues with The Lullaby, let’s discuss what works about the film. The performances, specifically by Reine Swart as the unwinding Chloe, and Thandi Puren as her potentially villainous mom, are perfectly serviceable. Though Swart lacks subtlety in her depiction of a mentally ill new mother, she makes up for it when the script calls for her to be unhinged and frightening. More consistent, however, is Puren, who, in the same breath, manages to be comforting while also eliciting a fair amount of paranoia. Chloe doesn’t know whether or not her mom is to be trusted, and Puren expertly walks a line that forces viewers to question her motivations as well.
Other highlights within The Lullaby are the constant sense of dread, the dreamlike atmosphere that reverberates throughout the runtime, and the chaotic ending that sees all of the pent up madness come to a head. These positives, though, are not enough to save the film from one glaring issue: pacing.
The pacing is so vehemently slow that The Lullaby struggles to gain traction or viewer investment. 30 minutes manages to feel like three times that length, and since the film fails to subtly explore the mental health threat at the center of the story, it’s hardly fascinating or worth suffering through.
There’s a better movie hidden within The Lullaby; one that showcases the effects of motherhood depression and grief in a worthwhile manner. Unfortunately, instead of doing so, the film throws the same effortless scares at viewers time and time again, which is quite disappointing when you consider how special it could have been.
Though it features decent performances an apt sense of dread and despair, these issues make Roodt’s film tough to recommend.