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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BABY BLUES -- DVD review by porfle

Whoa--I must say, this movie took a rather shocking turn I didn't expect. When I started watching BABY BLUES (2008) I had no idea what it was about, so I was on the lookout for the usual horror elements to start popping up. The setting, an isolated rural farmhouse in Georgia with a typical family of six--Mom, Dad, two boys, a girl, and a baby--seemed ripe for ghostly occurrences of some sort, or maybe a possession or an axe-wielding maniac. And that scarecrow that keeps giving Mom the heebie-jeebies sure seems like it might come to life at any moment. But the real horror that strikes this family isn't supernatural, and it doesn't come from outside.

I almost hate to give away any more about it, but the pivotal event in the story happens so early on that I wouldn't be able to talk about the movie otherwise. To put it bluntly, BABY BLUES is pretty much inspired by the case of crazed Texas housewife Andrea Yates, who murdered all of her children in one fell psychotic swoop back in '01. (At least, that's what this "based on a true story" story brought to my mind.) The "baby blues" of the title refers to postnatal depression--perhaps "psychosis" would be more apt--which has Mom (Colleen Porch) wandering around with black circles under her eyes while drifting in and out of a state of hallucinatory paranoia. We also see her reading (gasp!) the Bible in her first scene, rarely a good sign in a modern horror film.

Her family, on the other hand, is pretty normal and well-adjusted. Dad (Joel Bryant) is an easygoing lug who unfortunately has to spend much of his time driving a big rig. Jimmy (Ridge Canipe), the oldest, is a typical boy who plays baseball and carries a slingshot. Holden Thomas Maynard and Kali Majors are younger siblings Sammy and Cathy, and bringing up the rear is the new baby, Nathan. Jimmy's starting to notice that Mom isn't quite her usual self lately, but nobody suspects what will happen when she finally flips out during Dad's absence and begins to see her children as vile creatures who need to be severely punished.

I don't know what your tolerance level is for seeing bad things happen to little kids in movies, but BABY BLUES will definitely test it. Mom's breakdown leads to one murder, an attempted bathtub drowning, and various other acts of violence until finally there's a bloody stabbing that may have you picking your jaw up off the floor. After that, the surviving kids run for their lives as the suspense becomes almost unbearable for the rest of the film. Most movies would build up to a sequence this intense as a finale, but this one hits a high tension level about a third of the way through and more or less sustains it till the end.

As Mom, Colleen Porch ably conveys her slow descent into madness and the hysterical homicidal rage that finally bursts forth. There's a great early scene in which, after hearing that a former classmate has scored a job doing the local TV weather report, a haggard Mom stands in front of the bathroom mirror with a bright smile and recites "Tonight will be mostly cloudy, with a slight chance of rain" over and over, until the smile gradually becomes hideous and the phrase itself seems to boil over with bitterness and despair. The kids all give realistic performances, especially 13-year-old Ridge Canipe as Jimmy. He's just about as believably natural as a child actor can get and we can't help but pull for him as he tries to protect his siblings and himself. The authentic Southern accents and atmosphere are also a plus.

The direction by Lars E. Jacobson and Amardeep Kaleka is first-rate as are the editing and the cinematography, which has a rustic warmth in the daytime scenes that gives way to a colder, harsher look later on. Michael Filimowicz's music augments the action well without competing with it.

The DVD is 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital sound and Spanish subtitles. I watched a screener so I can't comment on any extras, but the promotional info mentions a behind-the-scenes documentary and a trailer.

This isn't about some cool serial killer in a hockey mask slaughtering a bunch of vapid teenagers in delightfully gory ways, and the fact that the setting is so normal and the events so plausible makes it all the more horrifying. Each death is tragic and hurtful to watch, and the suspense leading up to them is dreadful. Impeccably made and intensely effective, BABY BLUES more than succeeds in what it sets out to do, but boy, is it ever hard to watch. And you may suffer from a bad case of postcinematic depression when it's over.

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