Babycall (a.k.a. The Monitor) (2011)


It’s not uncommon for a film to leave me a bit ambiguous in my feelings towards it. There are many movies out there that I have strong feelings about in opposition to each other (I genuinely think Funny Games is a masterpiece of satire while at the same time being an arrogant and hypocritical film). It’s not unusual for me to see a film and get all Schrödinger on it, thinking two completely different things about it at the same time. This is the first film in a long time however, where I actually can’t tell either way.

Babycall (or The Monitor, in its official English title, though I see little wrong with calling it Babycall) tells the story of Anna, an emotionally frail woman who moves into a new apartment as part of a witness-protection program to escape her abusive husband, who also tried to kill their son, Anders. Anna has become an incredibly overbearing mother, and the social workers managing her and Anders tell her quite firmly that Anders needs to sleep in his own room, away from Anna. To ease her mind while she sleeps, Anna buys a baby monitor (the titular babycall) so she can hear if anything goes wrong.

Then, one night, Anna wakens to hear the sounds of a boy screaming, seemingly pleading for his life. She rushes into Anders’ room, only to find him peacefully asleep, and it becomes clear that the babycall has had its signal crossed with another one somewhere in the rather large apartment building.

At this point, this type of movie would ordinarily become an investigative thriller, as Anna tries to hunt down the truth behind what was happening, as well as dealing with the problem of her abusive ex-husband trying to get custody of Anders once more, and the arrival of Anders’ mysterious (and sinister) new friend.

Here’s the trailer, and if it intrigues you, don’t read the rest of this review, as spoils a great deal of the mystery in the film.

 

The frustrating thing about the film is that, for focussing so much on the babycall and the crossed wires, it turns out to have little to do with the outcome of the film. And by that, I also mean that the film spends very little time bothering with the mystery of who was screaming.

The real meat of the story is actually centred on Anna, and her inability to let Anders go. She very, very reluctantly lets him sleep in a different room, and even locks him in the house once he’s home from school – but clearly as a response to the abuse the two have suffered – she’s not creepy and domineering, she’s overprotective and reactive.

When she hears the crossed lines on the babycall, it’s not a catalyst for her to get out more, nor does it begin an investigation into the mystery á la Rachel’s investigation of the videotape in The Ring. Instead, it just makes her backslide from the small steps towards progress she’d been making with Anders (once she hears the screams, she moves him into her bed again).

There are a few other plot threads of varying significance about the film.

First and foremost is the character of Helge, a nice man who seems steeped in misery. His mother is in palliative care at the hospital, and it is Helge who sells Anna the babycall, and instantly takes a liking to her. There’s an awkward sort of courtship between the two, hindered by Anna’s lack of concern for appearing sociable, and Helge’s reminiscences that Anna reminds him a lot of his mother.

However, the two do manage a certain amount of chemistry, and it means that the awkwardness of their scenes is endearing – you hope they’ll sort each other out, rather than making you cringe.

In addition, Anders brings home a friend who is very odd; he’s quiet and withdrawn like Anders, but there’s a definite cold and sinister quality about him. He very quickly establishes himself as an obstacle between Anders and Anna, even shutting her out of Anders’ room.

There’s also the social workers, Ole and Grete, who sympathise with Anna and her plight, but make it clear that their priority is Anders and his wellbeing, which adds to the stress Anna suffers.

And then there’s Anna herself – it’s clear from very early on that she is not a well woman. She’s scared and frightened at all times, not least of all when the safety of Anders might even remotely be called into question. It also becomes apparent as the film goes on that Anna is not entirely there in her mind, that she’s clearly got some things hidden away from the rest of the world, and this works well to make her an unreliable protagonist.

So how does the film play out? Who was screaming on the babycall? Well, let me sum up:

We never know!

Like I said before, the film focuses much more on Anna and Anders, and ignores its actual premise. Whether or not this is a good thing, I can’t decide. As the film goes along, and it seems more and more to the people in the film like Anna is abusing Anders (we know she isn’t) it becomes a sort of “rage-against-The-Man” story – the babycall plotline is forgotten in favour of a story that focuses on Anna keeping custody of Anders.

This storyline becomes complicated by the arrival of Anders’ friend who is creepy and off-putting, as well as the interference of Ole the social worker. Grete quits, and Ole quickly becomes a predatory presence, implying that if Anna doesn’t become his to shag whenever he wants, he’ll arrange for Anders to end up with the abusive ex-husband instead of her.

Also in the mix is Helge, the guy who sells Anna the babycall. He takes an instant liking to her, and sees a lot of parallels between his own relationship with his mother in Anna and Anders. This becomes problematic, though, when Anders’ friend meets Helge, pretending to be Anders (Anna is in the kitchen at the time) showing a whole bunch of bruises all over his body, saying that Anna “does to me what your mother did to you.” This freaks Helge out, and casts even more doubt on Anna’s credibility.

It all comes to a head when Ole arrives one night, and tells Anna that her ex-husband is on his way to collect Anders from her. Anna, panicking, stabs him – first in the chest, then in the neck.

Then, in a frenzy of fear, she gathers Anders up in her arms, and jumps out a window, falling to the ground far, far below.

We then find out (through the film briefly switching to Helge as the protagonist) that Anders had died two years previously, in a murder-suicide committed by the husband. Anna had never been able to cope with this loss and believed that he was still alive, and misinterpreted a janitor as a threatening social worker.

And after a brief suggestion of Anna and Anders being reunited in death (although the film doesn’t make it clear whether or not she’s died, so maybe it’s a visual representation of her being able to move on with her life), the film ends, leaving a million questions.

REVIEW

I honestly can’t tell on this one!

The one thing I can safely say is that Noomi Rapace is excellent as Anna – but I wouldn’t have expected anything less, as she’s an excellent actress. She conveys the skittishness, fear, concern and instability of Anna perfectly, letting the character become more and more vulnerable/unreliable as the film needs with perfect control. One feels that in the hands of a less capable actress, Anna would seem like the villain of the film, but that’s not the case here.

Kristoffer Joner as Helge is also praiseworthy, creating a very deep character who’s obviously steeped in misery, but still trying to get on with his life as best he can.

The two resident creepy children of the film are a bit of a misfire to me – Vetle Qvenild Werring as Anders is an okay performance, but the character is rather dull; yes certain plot twists might explain why, but I’d still like a bit more to engage with.

Torkil Johannes Swensen Høeg as Anders’ friend (literally the character’s name) is a further misfire, creating a tedious presence on screen. Every time he turned up I wanted the film to delete his scenes – harsh on a child actor, perhaps, but it’s true. Both characters suffer from being underwritten to a fault.

Which is a fair comment to apply to the film overall. It’s underwritten. It’s not a film that enigmatically leaves some things ambiguous, it’s not trying to let the audience piece some things together themselves, it’s sorely, sorely underwritten.

Firstly, as I mentioned before, the whole “baby monitor picking up odd transmissions” is barely followed up on – the most we see is Anna trying to figure out what apartment the noise came from, as well as two giant red herrings, wherein we see a random neighbour in a carpark putting a corpse-sized plastic bag into a van, and a brief scene where a rough-looking man goes into the store Helge works at, also with the same problem of the babycall picking things up from other monitors – he adds a line at the end of this scene that suggests he’ll be hunting down any potential witnesses, only this is never followed up on.

Furthermore, the big twist that Anders has been dead all along doesn’t make a world of sense. It’s easy to see that this was where they were heading – I’d already taken note of a few shots where Anna was seen sitting across from Anders, then another character would see Anna, but Anders would be conveniently blocked from view; also that every time another character came over to their house, Anders would be asleep in his room – but then I thought I was jumping to conclusions when there was a scene at his school, with the principal and teachers thinking that Anna was abusing him. But no, turns out he was dead all along, apparently, though the film doesn’t explain what was happening to Anna while she was in the school, but also doesn’t provide much of an alternative (Ole turned out to be a janitor – what did the school turn out to be?)

There’s a vague suggestion through the film that Anna is being haunted by Anders, and that Anders’ friend is another ghost who wants to move on. The significant parts here involve a drawing and a lake. Anders draws a picture of the apartment building, and Anna suggests he also draw the nearby lake, which Anders is unaware of. When she takes him through the woods and to the lake, it turns out to be nothing more than a parking lot. Later on, Anna is in the woods again, and sees the lake, only this time she sees a man walking down with Anders’ friend, and drowning him. She dives in to find the body, only to have the film cut to Anna in a hospital, being told by a nurse that she was found in a parking lot, but with wet clothes. No explanation is given as to how her clothes got wet, and it’s never entirely confirmed whether or not there is an actual lake.

At the films end, once we switch to Helge’s perspective, we see the drawing again, only with a body included in the woods, which leads to him finding the body of Anders’ friend, and possibly explains why he was able to see Anders’ friend at all. Furthermore, it’s entirely likely that it was his murder Anna heard on the Babycall – which would make sense, but again the film doesn’t let us know either way.

The film clearly takes a lot of its cues from the J-Horror genre of films, but the payoff is a bit muddled – J-Horror films tend to leave a lot of questions, and also tend to be slightly mind-screwwy, but there’s also a certain logic to the madness that helps you piece together a resolution. In Babycall, the resolution is that the credits roll, and little more than that is made clear to the audience.

It’s as equally possible that the film is actually about a conspiracy of child murderers and that Anders is entirely real, but that Anna’s powerful ex-husband was determined to completely ruin her reputation or credibility and merely created a quick coverup once Helge arrives on the scene.

It’s a truly odd film, and an unusual experience to watch, but I honestly can’t deliver an opinion of its quality.

Despite pointing out its logical flaws, it does create this atmosphere of tension and intrigue, and you really do want to know what’s going on. The scene where Anna hears the babycall interference is truly startling, and I really liked the oddly-muted courtship between Anna and Helge – there’s a lot to like about the movie, but I don’t know if I do.

It’s a good film that needed a lot more attention to its script before going into production. Probably. Or it’s a bad film that’s saved by two strong performances and decent character work. Maybe.

I think I lean towards it being a mediocre film with good performances, because I have to assume that if I can’t tell if a film is good or bad, than it hasn’t created a strong enough impression, which is a bad thing in the end.

But really, this is one, more than usual, that might just have to be left up to the viewer. At the very least, see it for Rapace’s excellent work.

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15 thoughts on “Babycall (a.k.a. The Monitor) (2011)

  1. yea this movie left so many questions un answered. i watched it twice to see if i can pick up on anything but didnt have no luck. only thing that was good was noomies performance. this movie could have been great if only alll those questions were answered.

  2. Here is everything you need to know to understand the film.

    A woman, Anna, arrives to live in a new apartment complex “alone” but accompanied by the ghost of her recently deceased son, whom she believes to still be alive. She buys a baby monitor to..monitor..him and that night, through the monitor, hears the murder of another child in the apartment complex.

    The next day at school, the ghost of this freshly murdered child and the ghost of Anna’s child meet up and become friends (“You were murdered too?”).

    Anna, meanwhile, becomes increasingly crazy and paranoid, making certain events up entirely and projecting creepiness onto everyday things like janitors. She also supposedly stumbles repeatedly onto this seemingly unimportant parallel storyline of the freshly murdered boy and his father removing his body and burying him in the woods. This we believe is possibly her imagination but later find out is real.

    In response to her made up creepiness of the janitor/social worker, she invites a new friend, Helge, over to dinner. At dinner, the freshly murdered little ghost friend comes over to play, rings the doorbell and walks through the door (because he’s a ghost) where he then meets Helge and has a conversation about his bruises. This results in a big case of mistaken ghost identity.

    The man who freshly murdered his child shows up at the store wondering about his monitor, and this gives us our first inkling that the murder was actually real.

    Anna then goes crazy, stabs a janitor, and jumps out her window.

    Back in the empty apartment, perhaps in a flashback, the ghost of Anna’s son tells the freshly murdered ghost that it will get better and he’ll be able to “sleep” when his body is found. They presumably hatch a plan to make that happen and leave a map to the body’s location pinned to the door. Helge finds the map, digs up the body, understands that he’s been seeing a ghost, and pays homage to Anna’s corpse.

    So, in summary: Anna WAS crazy and seeing things, but there were ALSO 2 real little ghost boys, one freshly murdered and the other less recently murdered, that only a few people could see. Together, Anna, Helge, and the 2 ghost boys help to uncover the heinous crime.

    Loose ends include what exactly the lake was, the (imaginary) murder scene at the (imaginary) lake, why she was actually wet, and the whole arm-bruises-on-her-son subplot. These can all simply be chalked up to the fact that she was batshit. They don’t really matter. The 2 ghost boys are actually the whole point of the movie. 🙂

    • but what about the school??? lolol they were real people werent they? showing concern for the kid n all? and the guy from the electronic store, what story was he telling in the end?

      • the ppl at the school were real but she imagined them doing things that had to do with her son that they really didn’t do. like the janitor. he was real, but he never threatened to take her son away or try to rape her.

        the guy from the electronic store saw at least one ghost too, so he probably wasn’t telling any story in the end.

    • I think the lake was symbolic for her and her son’s relationship. The first time was Anna seeing herself and her son sitting there, like at the end (when they are at peace and together again finally). The second time (parking lot) Ander said she lied to him was a manipulation (to the end-purpose), but also symbolic (they were not together). The third time (murder scene) lake was symbolic of ghostboy2’s invading her senses and life (peace). All of it was a plot for the boys to “help each other”, obviously so the one could be found and sleep (rest in peace), and Anna’s son just wanted to be with his mom again (REALLY together, not just haunting her while still alive and crazy).

      That’s where the bruises came in (furthering the plan – remember he put up a picture of his dad and “was mean”, same reason as to why). He asked ghostboy2 if the bruises hurt. They exchanged information and Ander took them on because of the effect they would have on his mom (send her further spiraling but enough to send her over the edge, hence “not for him” – they hurt Anna, not Ander). When she was ready to jump, he said he didn’t want to come (cause he knew it was tragic/painful, etc.) but like Anna said, they would finally be together forever (and that is what he wanted – just not to be there/see his mom die).

      The end is them finally at peace (obviously), and enjoying each other’s company happy + lovingly in the afterlife (for anyone who doesn’t know).

      Oh, and her being wet from the lake that one time was just showing how crazy she was (to put together a lake that got her wet out of a parking lot – it was obvious that something VERY different put that together).

      PS SexyLittleIdeas,Thanks for being someone who got the plot/ghost-stuff. I figured it out when Helge said he still talked to his dad, and when the window the boy left/entered from was that high. I thought it was a great movie. …but it was VERY subtle sometimes and used devices many people are not familiar with.

  3. That’s essentially the plot I took away from the movie too; I think it would have been a better experience if the story made those things clear earlier, rather than hoping for a twist to fill in the (many) gaps.

    I think the story had a lot of room to rework itself – let the audience know early on that Anders is dead, and it could have had a whole different dynamic to it.

    Thanks for taking the time to reply 🙂

      • yea. what really bothered me of what u brought up was the school thing. did she imaging the school and the people? it would have made sence if i guess they showed that the school was actually an abandoned building or something but idk. like u said they should have added way more stuff for the sake of explanations. i still enjoyed noomies performance over all..

      • the guy n the end mentioned the story of a boy and his mother to noomie in the end. like he was sort of telling the movie i guess……idk mann lolol nevr had a movie made me this anxious to understand lol

  4. Wow. I have several questions. I don’t know where to start! I want to sit the producer down and ask him to explain. What was in his mind when he came up with this story?! Lol. I liked the movie. Just hate how it ended. Sooo many questions!
    Like:
    The school situation…
    Were the social workers even real?
    What was the janitor doing in her house?
    Why did Anders say (regarding his bruises) that they don’t hurt and that they aren’t for him?
    If the electronics store dude was abused as a child by his mom, why is he so attached to her?
    Was Anders ALMOST thrown out the window by his father…or was he drowned? Was that him that really drowned in the lake?
    Was Anders friend killed in the apartment then taken in the body bag to the woods to get burried OR was he the one that got drowned?
    If the father was dead (murder-suicide someone said, it was), then why would she need to be in protective custody? If the social workers were real, why didn’t they say to her that Anders is dead already?
    And just thinking about it… I always knew that where they lived was an oddly big place. Was it really a mental hospital (or mental home) of some sort? Kind of makes sense considering certain characters and what some of them said.
    etc., etc.

    I did get a few explanations by reading on this site so thanks to all who chipped in. 🙂

  5. Ok, your explainations are very good, thank you. But I don’t understand the very END scene, is Anna dead in this scene? Helge is there and seems to be having a flashback. The story line was very confusing but I think I understand it better thanks to your explainations. But what about the very end scene? That scene makes everything that COULD make sense make no sense…the end scene almost make me think that the entire film was a dream like sequence in Anna’s head, as she is in some kind of coma after her fall.

    • A lit candle is usually indicative of honoring someone deceased. She is pale (lifeless), and Helge is wearing black. Anna was dead. And if she was in a coma I think there would have been life-support somewhere (anything) in sight. The end is her with her son (finally) and enjoying the lake together (like the son wanted AND plotted throughout the movie with the other boy who had his own agenda). The lake was also symbolic of Anna’s own mind/journey. The end is she’s finally at rest and finally whole.

  6. The school bit was quite sloppy. As were a few scenes w. social workers. It’s basic craftsmanship, like not building a table with one leg shorter than the others: the rule is that actions and speech can be entirely reinterpreted in the light of later facts but not simply falsified : “she imagined it”…Sloppy because she does NOT imagine Helge, she does not imagine the Janitor, and to have magine an entire schooll and the situation in it is just poor carpentry. The Janitor could have just been playing on her fears with his lines, but she dreams up a social worker who isn’t there? To see this done with elegance watch the Korean film “Two Sisters”

    • I’m inclined to agree. More so than when I first watched it, I’m leaning towards it being a not-great movie. And I’ve been meaning to see Two Sisters for years. Should get on to that…

    • How was the school bit sloppy? It was obvious that she imagined A LOT (like an entire lake, [ETC.] that was really a parking lot that she *STILL* somehow literally got soaking wet from [as in the parking lot couldn’t have gotten her wet so her mind would have to make up THAT ENTIRE CONNECTION despite the obvious discrepancy]). That’s somehow acceptable (“Oh yeah! That’s a delusion! I recognize that!”), but the rest is not?? The subtle signs are all over the place. First off: she did not imagine an entire school: when she got onto the bus in the beginning the school was actually chasing a weirdo loiterer off the school premises (and adjacent to it). The body language of that one teacher and the principal made that clear. The later school episode was obvious that same school faculty (the guy that she “ran” onto the bus from) (the principal right?) inviting her into his office trying to talk to her and understand her but she was having a completely different conversation entirely. The other part where she grabs her son is obviously an amalgam bc neither of the two teachers look at her son at the piano (the one lady was just trying to get her out of the bldg at that point). I don’t disagree with the insanity-element of the plot. It’s trying to make sense of madness that is the failure instead of accepting that the viewer actually saw and heard things that were not there too (as well as the main character). In that way the viewer was shared in that level of insanity. The whole movie is about madness in a melting pot of other plot devices where the story becomes an entirely new creation. I for one liked it. It’s not for everyone though (considering that most people didn’t even make the connection that there were ghosts in the film).

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