Tag Archives: Norway

Babycall

Dark, unsettling and minimalist – and I’m not just talking about the Nordic landscape. Babycall director Director Pål Sletaune has brewed up a restrained psychological drama which abandons big horror shocks in favour of strong, chilling performances.

Anna (a phenomenal Noomi Rapace) and her eight-year old son Anders (Vetle Qvenild Werring) leave home in order to escape his abusive and murderous father. Once they move into a presumed safe housing complex, the film follows Anna’s psychological deterioration to a sudden, shocking dénouement. As bleak reality slips into an even bleaker fantasy, the audience are left questioning whether Anna’s world of disappearing lakes, abusive social workers, and a son with mysterious purple bruises on his body, are fantasies or grim truths. Using the age-old horror trick of the unreliable protagonist, Sletaune leaves question marks slowly and deliberately throughout the film.

What this film lacks in big shocks or sustained moments of horror, it makes up for in atmosphere. Anna’s breakdown is set against a bleak Nordic landscape of muted colours, life-sapping building complexes, and ghostly shopping centres. Bare neon-lit kitchens and empty car parks work as symbols of her solitude, giving us an insight into her nervous, sleep-deprived interiority. It’s in one of these shopping centres that Anna goes to buy a baby monitor and meets her only friend and a potential love interest Helge (played with a perfect mix of muted despair and gawky hope by Kristoffer Joner). Both exude a genuine waft of loneliness in a way that makes us root for the match, but also question the motives. Why does he take so many photos of her? What is she expecting from the relationship?

Noomi Rapace’s performance sustains the focus of the film. Rapace’s Anna embodies a hunched, painful physicality, with her awkward, skinny frame, wiry hair, nervously pinched mouth and big darting eyes. Her psychological (and often physical) grip on the child is frightening in itself, not least (I imagine) for those with overbearing mothers. There is clearly something about motherhood that is ripe for terrifying turns: think Henry James’ novel The Turn of The Screw, The Orphanage, absolutely any advert for Iceland with Kerry Katona or Stacey Solomon.

Part of my problem with the film was its lack of ingenuity in creating horror out of oft-used tropes: the questionably ‘mad’ mother protagonist, the creepy Nordic child, claustrophobic urban developments. Even the central premise of the film, that potentially haunted baby monitor, is a recurring trope in recent horror films, from Insidious and Paranormal Activity 2  to Spanish efforts like The Haunting and The Baby’s Room. Despite it’s obvious strengths, there was little in this film that I felt I hadn’t seen before. What felt genuinely fresh about it was its commitment to realism – no CGI horror here, thank you very much – and as such, the plot’s slow unwinding and careful entwining of moments of ethereal fantasy worked perfectly.

Sletaune has created a film which is part art-house, part horror, and this potentially awkward cross-category (pulled off so successfully by vampire horror film Let The Right One In) fails to really fully deliver on either premise. A sense of unease, some beautiful scenes of either stark despair or artsy fantasy, some powerful performances – we leave the cinema, not empty-handed exactly, but scrabbling for something more.  However, what this visually superior horror brings to life, more than anything else, is the peculiarly haunting loneliness of inner-city living.

Babycall is in cinemas from Friday 30 March, released by Soda Pictures.

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Troll Hunter

Don't feed the troll

The troll is a much maligned mythical beast, evicted from its under-bridge home and goat-eating ways, and nominally condemned to fluorescent nostalgia as the mid-90s’ (or 60s, 70s, & 80s) fad for little plastic dolls with bright, frizzy hair. Now, however, these generational ephemera are making a fearsome comeback on the big screen courtesy of production behemoth Dreamworks. Thankfully, Norwegian director André Øvredal’s fun début monster movie rescues the troll myth, returning it to its beastly origins. As Troll Hunter’s eponymous protagonist reassures us, these aren’t the cute trolls from the fairytales of our childhood.

Set in present-day Norway, Troll Hunter follows three college students who set out to document a mysterious, nocturnal poacher named Hans for the purposes of a school film. After pursuing Hans against his wishes, he eventually acquiesces to their persistence and decides it’s about time he reveals all about his clandestine career as – you guessed it – a troll hunter.

The opening title cards set the premise of anonymously received footage reassembled in the vein of other horror smash-hits like The Blair Witch Project or CloverfieldThankfully, Troll Hunter does not take itself as seriously as these other titles and the pretence is immediately dropped. Though director of photography Hallvard Bræin uses handheld camerawork to augment a documentary-realist style, the cinematography and general finish of the image, in contrast to what one might expect from a bunch of college students, is crisp and glossy and the night scenes are well lit, with the Norwegian wilderness appearing lush and green. The choice to reject the realism associated with grainy footage is a wise one as it would have jarred with the respectfully tongue-in-cheek updating of a traditional Norwegian myth and the deadpan performances of the cast that further contribute to Troll Hunter‘s immense charm.

The film was improvised with a script merely to guide the action, and the older cast of Otto Jesperson (Hans) and Hans Morten Hansen (Hans’s amusingly bureaucratic boss), drawn from Norwegian TV comedy, anchor the droll tone of the film. Of the younger cast, Johanna Morck is particularly strong as laid back student sound-recordist, Johanna.

Troll Hunter: "Crisp, glossy and well lit"

Much of the comedy springs from the ludicrous idiosyncrasies of conspiracy. Besides protecting the public from trolls that stray from their territory, Hans is also keeping the Norwegian populace ignorant of their very existence. A national grid engineer hasn’t given a thought to why there is an immense ring of electricity pylons that leads nowhere other than in a loop (an ingenious oversized electric fence for the gigantic trolls) and there is an hilarious sketch involving a group of Polish painters, a bureaucrat and an immigrant bear.

Faithful to the classic tenets of the troll legends, Øvredal uses these particularly anachronistic peculiarities to great, teasingly comic effect; when, for example, Hans relents to the student’s prying camera lens, the first thing the troll hunter asks as a condition of them joining his hunt, is if any of them are Christians? Christians smell (to Trolls that is). Hans, however, is not too sure about Muslims.

In terms of visual appearance, the trolls are convincingly repellent, and despite the low budget (the film came in at $3.5 million) the CGI stands up well, with a little help from the mockumentary-style shaky camera and the trolls’ nocturnal lifestyle. The switching between ‘natural’ and ‘night-vision’ in the night scenes adds an extra dimension to the hunter/hunted scenario, playing intelligently on notions of seeing and believing. The scares are relatively low-key but fun, and the trolls are akin to Jurassic Park’s Raptors and T-Rex, only uglier and possessed of considerably worse hygiene.

There is only one rather clumsily worked scene, where Hans recalls a career low. He explains that he was once called upon to clear an area of its trolls for a road development, slaughtering all of the creatures in doing so. The scene breaks the rhythm of the narrative and is unnecessary as Jesperson’s well-judged performance excellently conveys the sadness that stems from the paradox of his job without the need for further exposition: in order to protect all trolls, he has to kill some. One can’t help but think of the current plight of Britain’s own badgers and modern governments’ oxymoronic policy of ‘wildlife management.’

Troll Hunter is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9 September via Momentum pictures, and is highly recommended.

Contributor John McKnight can be followed on Twitter @johntydon.