Cradle Will Fall Review
Few pleasures are gloriously guiltier than that of the horror film. Of course, one readily embraces the filmmaker’s techniques in soothing our guilty conscience. We laugh liberally as those arrogant and annoying “frat boys” help clean up the gene pool by stumbling into a variety of inventive and amusing deaths; those irresistibly attractive, flighty and promiscuous college girls are surely fair game for the slasher’s bloodthirsty blade – and our horrified grins; and if we’re left with any lingering doubt that our bloodlust may be misguided, we’re hailed a taxi that expedites our exit from the guilt zone when we discover that our poor, sensitive limb-tearer was denied cuddles from his mummy as a nipper. Who are we to judge?
Modern horror has upped the ante somewhat by continually stretching the boundaries of our tolerance, prodding away at our civilised sensibilities, and challenging us with plots and themes that don’t sit quite so comfortably within our acceptance of what legitimately constitutes entertainment. This is often effective in elevating the sensory experiences we crave from the genre - tension, shock, horror, disgust, fear... For all of its effectiveness though, whilst we travel on this journey from one new shock to the next, is there a point where we draw the line, a line over which our shock and horror fails to successfully transcend into entertainment?
As you might have guessed, Lars Jacobson and Amardeep Kaleka’s chilling and haunting Cradle Will Fall (adjusted from its US title of Baby Blues) begs this question, and presents a tough visual, emotional, and moral viewing experience.
This grim movie’s formative opening twenty minutes or so build an impressive, intense study of the miserable dynamics of post-natal depression (eventually developing into the more extreme postpartum depression), and you could initially be forgiven for mistaking the picture for a well executed drama piece. As the oppressive and claustrophobic heat beats down on an isolated American family farm, it's clear that things just ain't right. Dad's working away long hours, driving trucks to bring home the corn, and, whilst the kids are typical with their predilection for playing, arguing, and generally making a racket, Mum is clearly feeling the weight of bringing up four children, including little baby Nathan. The mounting pressure is palpable as Jacobson and Kaleka carefully but deliberately compress the frayed and raw emotions, winding them tighter and tighter, until a tragic explosion of misery and violence seems nothing but inevitable.
Those who have come into contact with post-natal depression will recognise the distressing dynamics of the condition in the early sequences. Whether it's the growing desperation and taut, tense body language of the mother (contrasted with phases of total indifference), the incomprehension of the well-meaning but ineffective father as he flippantly passes off her spiralling behaviour, or the jarring contrast between the father's largely passive function driving trucks and the mother's highly demanding role as solo carer, it's all too easy to read the situation from the comfort of the cold and sober exterior. Inside the emotional pressure cooker of the home, perspective is much more difficult to grasp.
Performances are largely impressive, and not least in the younger members of the cast. Ridge Canipe is brilliant as eldest son Jimmy, battling desperately to fulfil the patriarchal role in leading the family in the absence of Dad, whilst also fighting to suppress his natural urge to trust the suddenly violent mother he holds so dear. Kali Majors is also convincing as kid sister Cathy, and younger brother Sammy (Holden Thomas Maynard) doesn't let the side down either. Colleen Porch, working with a sometimes questionable script in the latter period, plays the maladjusted matriarch with terrifying fervour, documenting her depressing demise with gloomy realism. And Joel Bryant, as the absent patriarch, portrays an insubstantial, blinkered, but well-meaning father appropriately.
As the macabre, gruesome, and straightforward tale unfolds, the staple horror ingredients are all introduced with deft and accurate hand to create a rising and uncomfortable product of tension and shock. The result is a profoundly disturbing document of complete mental breakdown, and its devastating consequences – apparently “based” upon a true story. The problem is that for all of the intelligent construction, solid acting performances, and nerve-shredding tension, this accomplished and graphically violent depiction of a painfully drawn-out cat and mouse pursuit of a psychotic mother against her own innocent, confused, and terrified children leaves us utterly deflated. We’re intrigued by the mental demise of the tortured mother, yet as she thrusts her pitchfork into the confused, petrified, and still trusting little figures, we suddenly feel cruelly cheated by the filmmakers. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that there are no movies featuring such subject matter that merit high recommendation; but in Cradle Will Fall, the suffering of the children seems not a troubling part of a wider and more meaningful journey, but rather the intended and only destination of the journey itself.
I can only thank the writers for tacking on an incredibly absurd ‘twist’ finale to the end of this depressing document of maternal mental breakdown, because it successfully neutralises, in part at least, the chilling misery accumulated by the story that precedes it.
This anamorphically-enhanced picture is presented in a screen ratio of 1.78:1, runs for a mercifully swift 74 minutes – considerably shorter than the 85 minutes listed on imdb.com for the US version, or the 90 minutes listed for the US DVD release – and is encoded for region 2.
Whilst the transfer is OK, the overall reproduction is quite grainy, which actually pays dividends much of the time, as it is eminently suitable for the dark, grim events which unfold before our sickened gaze. Some scenes are intentionally filtered to appear this way, too.
Problems begin to appear where there are larger expanses of vivid colour. If you look closely at the shot of the parked red agricultural vehicle on the farm beneath the baking hot sun, the colour appears to suffer from some anti-aliasing and pixilation. The heavily colour-filtered scenes can also affect the definition slightly, especially towards the end where a blue haze shrouds the murky action. Overall though, colours are vivid and strong, and there’s nothing that really harms the visuals to any serious degree.
A gripe that is strange to report is that the credits still list the film as ‘Baby Blues’, as per the US release. It seems a point of laziness that these have not been adjusted to the UK equivalent. I don’t know why the film was released with a different title here in the UK, but I’m sure the marketers will, as usual, have had a hand in the decision.
There are no subtitles.
Sound is reproduced in adequate fashion, with the southern drawls being communicated clearly. The sound presentation uses Dolby Digital 5.1, but in truth there isn’t a great deal done with placement of the sounds. I’m not sure that this would have especially benefitted the film, which certainly thrives on its straightforward and gritty foundation.
With such troubling subject matter, it’s perhaps something of a relief that we have no real extras in this basic release. The only item to note is a theatrical trailer, which reveals more about the condition underpinning the behaviour of the unhinged mother than the film itself.
Cradle Will Fall is an accomplished production with modest technical values that constructs an impressive portrait of the unbearable tension that can accompany the misery of postnatal depression. Alas, with some brutal scenes of violence unleashed upon the most innocent of characters, and the underhand tactic of the ‘this really happened, you know’ badge of authenticity, the movie will only really appeal to the most cold and heartless of horror fans, and the ridiculous ending and notable dearth of extras do little to further the cause.