“Siembamba – mother’s little child
Siembamba – mother’s little child
Wring its neck; throw it in a ditch
Stamp on its head and make sure its dead!”
That is the gruesome little song upon which this gruesome little film from South Africa is based! And it is gruesome indeed…
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the US premiere of the South African produced horror feature, The Lullaby, in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. This was, for me, an historic moment, as this was the first ever South African film that had a Hollywood premiere and as I am South African! I am, though, not being biased when I say that this film is a winner and shouldn’t be missed by horror fans.
The story uses a chilling fact as its jumping off point: that, during the Boer War a hundred-some years ago, children born to Afrikaans women who had been raped by British soldiers were murdered in the most horrible fashion simply because they were of mixed Afrikaner-British blood. After setting up this chilling scene, the story cuts to present day where we are introduced to young Chloe van Heerden who is having her first child, the innocent young Liam.
What follows is a nightmare journey into a world where Chloe doesn’t know fact from fiction, where she’s constantly being menaced by a Midwife dressed all in black who urges her to murder Liam and where she doesn’t know who to trust. Confined to a spooky house in a remote town by her domineering mother, Chloe sinks further and further into depression and madness, and her downward spiral culminates in her committing horrific acts.
This is a beautiful and horrific film. Chloe’s loneliness and isolation are perfectly reflected in the cinematography, which emphasis lifeless colors and remote, misty images. It doesn’t flinch from showing the most gruesome and graphic imagery – especially as far as young Liam is concerned – and it manages to strike a perfect balance between giving the viewer a supernatural and a psychological explanation for what happens to Chloe. Postpartum psychosis, where a new mother experiences paranoia, hallucinations, depression, severe mood swings and feelings of violence towards her child, is a very real disorder and is experienced by growing numbers of young mothers. Whether Chloe’s problems stem from her mind or from the murderous intent of others is something the viewer must decide for himself.
Acting kudos must go to Reine Swart who handles the complex and harrowing role of Chloe with a maturity far beyond her years. With her brilliance in bringing a character to life, she’s most definitely a talent to look out for in the future. Thandi Puren, who plays Chloe’s mother, also delivered a wonderful performance as Chloe’s harsh and critical mother, lending a depth to the character that would have been absent had it been played by a lesser actress.
Written by the immensely talented Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo, directed by the multiple-award winning Darrell Roodt and produced by father and son team Andre and Samuel Frauenstein, The Lullaby is screening in select theaters in the US and is also available on Amazon, YouTube and other VOD platforms.
You can watch the trailer here: