Thursday, July 31, 2008

BABY BLUES (2008) d. Amardeep Kaleka & Lars Jacobsen

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

The list of “what terrifies us” is as long as the Mississippi River and everyone has their special favorite, from swarms of ravenous bees, to maniacal clowns, to a long dark fall off a cliff to the rotting fingers of leprosy. While supernatural events and superhuman creatures can be shocking and morbidly fascinating, some of the most frightening imagery is derived from that with which we are most familiar. If it feels safe and is recognizable, but can be twisted to become uncomfortable and alarming, the horror takes root in the deepest corners of our being and reaches down so far that the cracks in our armor are split wide open, leaving the viewer feeling bereft of aid and vulnerable. Few places hold more solace and sustain the soul than the family hearth, with its images of togetherness and caring, but when that is no longer safe, there are few other places where we can turn for shelter. BABY BLUES, starring Colleen Porch, Ridge Canipe and Joel Bryant, is a film that cuts to the core of the American Family and its values and does so with sharp instruments designed to spill blood aplenty.

BABY BLUES is the story of the Williams family, living life in a farming community in the Deep South and engaging in the everyday tasks of chores, work, meals and prayer. Jimmy is the oldest of four children, the youngest of which is a newborn. His father is a trucker and his mother minds the house. Jimmy’s mother is a God-fearing Christian overwhelmed by postpartum depression, her parental duties and an absentee husband who she fears could be straying. As her depression deepens, her angst over her retreating youth increases and the demands of the household hang like a millstone around her neck, Mrs. Williams' mind snaps and her rage becomes focused on her helpless children. Jimmy does all he can to protect them against their mother, but the despair and Scripture-fueled fury of a mother scorned cannot be turned aside.

From the opening scenes so filled with images of the agrarian South and Heartland Americana, it is obvious that BABY BLUES is going to be a teeth-clenching and viscera-chilling experience and I was not disappointed. The first acts are filled with colorful, cheerful and comforting images of farm fields, a fruitful family and fresh-faced kids behaving like any children would. The suspense is intensified ever so slightly and only hints of what is coming are dropped every now and then, although like a Greek tragedy, it is obvious what is going to happen, you just don’t know precisely when and exactly how. Before long, the beautiful icons are mixed with the baleful and all hope of help is swept away in a surge of one violent, brutal act after another. All through the ferocity and blood lust, scenes of people and places that might have been of help in staving off disaster are juxtaposed with a continued onslaught against innocence, as Mrs. Williams (Colleen Porch) lays waste to all that was her family, and Jimmy (Ridge Canipe) is forced to bear witness to and fight against a resistless tide of savagery. There is no doubt that BABY BLUES is very difficult to watch and it is a challenge to praise any film that cuts so close to home, but the pacing, photography and direction of this film is all very strong. There are some beautiful establishing shots of scenes that are consistently contrasted with unsettling and gripping character shots and action sequences. This complex blend of imagery develops a palpable aura of menace and escalating drama and misery. No character ever takes on proportions outside the realm of human abilities, nor is their anything occult or unbelievable about BABY BLUES. This film evokes the terror of “what could really happen” in your region, your town or right next door. All of the characters are sourced from the people you see on the street or at church each week, so it is easy to identify with them, feel for them and bleed with them.

All through this powerful film, there is Colleen Porch who plays the mother. Her performance is exactly what is needed to develop that impression that grows to certainty that Mrs. Williams has lost all sense of reason. From her haunting eyes, attractive but unsettling good looks and quiet but grim early persona, Ms. Porch’s portrayal of Jimmy’s mother descends through a spiral of insanity that runs a gamut of emotions consistently careening back and forth across a landscape of familiar and frightening psychological aspects. Ridge Canipe gives a stalwart performance as the dutiful son forced to call on reserves of strength and courage in a fight for survival. Joel Bryant is every ounce the caring and torn but blissfully unaware father whose need to provide for his family causes him to desert them just when his presence could have mattered the most. Youngsters Kali Majors and Holden Thomas Majors give steady performances as Jimmy’s younger siblings Cathy and Sammy, but it is Colleen Porch who dominates this ghastly portrait of the American Family horribly gone wrong. With her bedraggled raven locks, tear and blood-streaked face and soulful but forbidding stare, her malevolent presence cannot be shaken off, even as we hope and pray at the outset that something can be done for this unfortunate woman. By the end, she is no longer a figure of pity but a ruined and damaged spirit whose frailties have wrought such dreadful carnage.

As a result of only having a “screener copy” for my viewing purposes, I was not able to watch and review any bonus features on the upcoming BABY BLUES dvd release. In the press release, there is mentioned to be a “Behind the Scenes” documentary and the theatrical trailer in the extras segment. With any luck, I will be able to procure a copy of BABY BLUES and watch the featurette. I imagine that any behind the scenes look at this project will be illuminating to say the least. One of my favorite parts of my review of THE GIRL NEXT DOOR was the bonus features and my chance to see the creative and intellectual process behind that controversial film. While BABY BLUES is not as graphic, nor does it tackle as taboo a subject as THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, it evokes a similar sense of dread, distress and disgust, and seeing into the minds of the cast and crew of movies of that type is always fascinating.

BABY BLUES is probably not for everyone because of its uncompromising look at the grisly end product of psychosis. It is not a shock-fest bloodbath typical of exploitation cinema and it is not a slasher film like FRIDAY THE 13th. It incorporates the best of both worlds and combines those elements with the vigorous efforts of young directors making an independent film. BABY BLUES taps into the darkest corners of the soul like a good exploitation film would do and marries it to the relentless intensity of a first rate slasher film, but from there the earnestness and seriousness of independent horror cinema is grafted onto the project and the result is a film that will deliver an emotional blow to the spiritual solar plexus. Experiencing motion pictures like BABY BLUES is never easy, for the “ripped from the headlines” feel is uncomfortably realistic and therefore it seeks for the heart, grasps it in an icy grip and squeezes with all the strength of Darkness. In a film where there is little sensationalism and the story is dependent on a bleak look at the barren places of the inside no one wants to admit to, BABY BLUES makes one that much more thankful for a bright blaze in the fireplace and the warm hand of a loved-one on a somber day.

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