Cradle Will Fall

Cradle Will Fall

(aka Baby Blues)

There are far too few kids murdered in films these days. Imagine how much better Annie would have been if Miss Hannigan had gone batshit crazy with a sledgehammer during "Hard Knock Life", or if a troupe of machete wielding gibbons had leapt from the ceiling during the climax of High School Musical and recreated the ending of Cannibal Holocaust. Ahhh, happy days....

Truth is that the graphic killing of wee sprogs is one of the last great taboos of cinema, and it's a line that very few mainstream movies are willing to cross. That's why scenes such as the toddlers being crushed under a truck's wheels in the Korean film The Uninvited or, to a lesser extent, some of the climactic scenes of Torchwood: Children Of Earth have the power they do, and precisely why Uwe Boll makes a point of having as many kids die in blood-splattered slow motion as he can during the bad taste fest that is Postal. But these are pretty rare examples. If a kid's going to die, it's most likely going to happen off screen and almost certainly will be done by an unspeakably evil and morally horrific villain. So when a film comes along with the core premise of a mother hunting down and murdering her own children we'd be looking at something pretty transgressive that breaks both new ground and taboos, right? Wrong.

Poor Mom (Colleen Porch) is already finding things difficult when truck driving Dad heads off on a long haul, leaving her to cope alone with three screaming kids and a newborn baby on the isolated farm where they live. It's pretty clear from the way Mom constantly breaks down in tears that all is not well with her, yet Dad fails to spot the clues - despite a warning from oldest son Jimmy - and climbs aboard his rig. Silly Dad.

These opening fifteen minutes are when the film is at its best. Languidly taking time to establish the isolation of the family's rusty junk strewn farm, these sections are atmospheric and demonstrate a subtlety of touch that hold the promise of developing into something interesting. Characters are well drawn and believable, at least up until this point, and the script is delicately written, careful to show rather than tell. But something suddenly changes. It's as if the fountain pen used to write up until this point runs dry and the only thing they can find to replace it is a can of lime green spray paint.

Jimmy (Ridge Canipe) spends his day wandering across cornfields to ask a pot smoking elderly neighbour about how his old dog killed a snake. "You'd be surprised at what an animal can do to protect its own," mutters the aged stoner, pointing out that "It's not about age, it's about instinct. Time don't change an animal's instinct. One day a young rattlesnake will get the better of old Kaiser, and he'll die like a good warrior".

It's with this heavy handed and portentous exchange that things start to go downhill in so many ways. Mom starts having hallucinations of the 90's nu-metal pop video kind and gives herself a drastic makeover using her own blood as lipstick. Pretty soon the constant screaming and arguing from the kids gets too much, she snaps and does a blunder. Cue one dead baby and two confused boys looking on as their Mom attempts to drown their sister. Not anyone's idea of a family bonding session.

Nastiness ensues as the kids try to work out exactly what's going on, leading to more bloodshed and screaming. Although over the top and hysterical, this section at least remains believable. The confusion from the younger members of the family over their beloved parent wanting to harm them is well handled until they get outside. Here we have an enormously over egged scene where one child can't work out if he should flee on his bike to get help or head over to the screaming mad woman who's suddenly wearing emo-style panda eye makeup and advancing on him with a murderous expression. The wrong decision is made, leading to the kid being stabbed multiple times with an antique hand mirror. Oops.

This murder also marks the death of any sense of realism or believability the film had. As the surviving kids flee into the surrounding cornfields they leave behind them the body of the film this could have been, setting out on a path both far-fetched and derivative. Within moments of the children having taken refuge between the stalks of corn, Mom comes charging in driving a combine harvester. Apparently this model features a child detecting radar as, despite the field being massive, she known exactly where to head and is soon bearing down on her offspring who seem unable to work out how to run sideways out of the vehicle's path. Lucky for them that a couple of shots from a cheap-ass slingshot will put a combine harvester out of action, isn't it? Hmmm.

From this point on the film becomes an extended chase and escape sequence, alternating between scenes of the kids attempting to hide and the mother constantly discovering their hiding places while yelling quips like "playtime's over!" and "here piggy piggy piggy" like a low-rent Freddy Krueger. We're also treated to two fantastic examples of the clichéd "Sorry, can't hear the cry for help, the music's too loud" scene, which is nice.

The further into the film we go, the more ridiculous things become. When one kid hides in a hen house, Mom takes a long time to pull a series of bizarre "I'm mad, me" faces at her son through a hatch before swiping about with a cleaver and accidentally decapitating a chicken. She then manages to extend her arm across what appears to be six foot of floor space and wound the boy's leg. Not the one nearest to her, mind -she miraculously gets the one next to the wall. A dog then appears and attacks her.

Characters start acting like they're in a badly written horror movie. I know he's stoned and all, but when the neighbour finds Mom, holding the cleaver, next to the body of his pet dog who's clearly been hacked to death you might think he'd be able to put two and two together. But no. His first thought is "some animal did this". More fool him.

Giving far too much screen time to Mom doing a massively OTT mentalist shambling about with a glazed expression routine while Jimmy dashes about trying to get help, the film climaxes in a blaze of mediocrity. Without giving too much away, the moment Jimmy goes back into the house and turns on the gas taps - a full ten minutes before the end of the film - you know what's coming, but even the explosive finale fails to ignite any excitement.

We're then treated to a "months later" coda of such monumental stupidity that it is an absolute jaw-dropping insult to the viewer's intelligence. Not only does one character reveal an enormously inconsiderate decision to the traumatised surviving child in a tone of utterly inappropriate levity, the film then delivers a twist revelation so ridiculous and a final "oh no, it could happen all over again" shot that will provoke more laughter of disbelief than the entire rest of the movie.

Despite the contentious subject matter, Cradle Will Fall actually plays things pretty safe. The movie is relatively gore free, with much of the blood being spilled in the dark and rarely being focused on. Indeed, the most explicitly icky shots are mom sticking a needle into her finger early on in the film or the violent demise of the elderly neighbour. The structure of the plot settles into the familiar rut furrowed by so many of the lesser stalk and slash movies, and the only thing that can unsettle is the fact that it's little kids who are the victims here. But even then, at no point do we see the graphic death of any of the children. Even in the most frenzied murder careful framing is used so that we see the mother stabbing away and sprays of blood, but the director is cautious to stay away from close up gore shots. Although the explicit images of a little girl pissing herself in terror and the unwounded dead body of a baby, killed off screen, may upset some, pretty much everything else is done by implication. It seems that the graphic murder of children is still taboo even for a film that features filicide as its central concept.

What's potentially more offensive is that the movie claims to be based on true events and was supposedly inspired by the actions of Texan mother Andrea Yates, who drowned all her children while suffering from Postpartum Depression. Don't get me wrong - There's a very good, and very harrowing, film to be made about Postpartum Depression related killing, and even about the Andrea Yates case. But I can assure you that film will spend much, much, more time on establishing the events leading up to the killings, and a huge amount of time dealing with the repercussions, rather than making the murders the focus of the movie.

Cradle Will Fall devotes so much time to the attacks on the kids while making such an issue of the fact that "The following is based on actual events" that its motives look a little exploitative, and not in a good way. The cavalier attitude taken with this tragic and horrific story by the film doesn't leave the best taste in the mouth, and given the mainstream horror structure of the movie the whole use of genuine newspaper headlines relating to similar cases in the trailer feels tacked on to add shock value and vicarious thrills to a fairly standard chiller.

Moral browbeating aside, Cradle Will Fall is a missed opportunity. The opening sections reveal a talented scriptwriter who could develop his skills into something much more interesting than presented here. The direction and cinematography are confident and the film looks very good. Taken for what the film is, rather than what it could have been, we're left a thankfully short bad taste horror-by-numbers that almost manages to turn what should be a shocking premise into a so-bad-it's-good laugh fest. That's some achievement!

Review by Paul Bird

Released by Momentum Pictures
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review