Monday, July 1, 2013

The Monitor (2011): Between Love And Madness...

The Monitor is a 2011 Norwegian film that teeters between thriller and ghost story.  It was released under the title 'Babycall' in the UK, so the film's producers can thank their lucky stars the title was changed before US release, as I doubt it would have the same interest shown with that deplorable title (though apparently baby monitors are called babycalls overseas). Still...

I've noticed Scandinavian films seem to differ from their American counterparts in that they aren't quite ready to show you everything, at least not right away. They generally have a slower pace and a steady build to an ending that isn't always in your face obvious, and often allow you to draw your own conclusions. I love a slow burn film, and though The Monitor does have some minor issues here and there with staying on point, it is a worthwhile feature, albeit a bit lethargic.

Anna (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus) is a troubled, nervous woman who moves into a new apartment building with her young son (I'd guess he's 8), Anders (Velte Qvenild Werring).  She has fled from an abusive husband and is under protective services - her ex supposedly has no idea where she has moved to.  It's obvious from the start that Anna is overly protective of Anders, perhaps from the violent past they have escaped from, perhaps in part because Anna struggles with nervous instability.  She doesn't allow him to sleep in his own room or bed, and wants him close by her at every moment.  Child services forces her to realize it is unhealthy for young Anders to be so dependent and warns her that he needs to sleep alone in his own bed, and that he must attend public school - an idea that Anna vehemently opposes.

Regardless, she sends him to school and waits outside until the headmaster realizes what she is doing and forces her to leave.  She goes to a local electronics store, looking for a baby monitor so she can hear Anders in his room at night. (Yes, she is that paranoid). She gets assistance from Helge (Kristoffer Joner), who himself is quite awkward and overwrought, yet the two strike up a hesitant friendship.

The first night after Anna sets up the baby monitor, she wakes up terrified, hearing someone screaming bloody murder from the monitor. She rushes to Anders room and finds him fast asleep.

 Unnerved, she brings this to Helge's attention, who explains that sometimes you can inadvertently pick up other close frequencies on the monitor, and advises her to change the channel.  Anna realizes that someone in her apartment building was no doubt doing the screaming. When it happens a second time, she discusses it over lunch with Helge, who then divulges his understanding of her situation with Anders. He was coddled and over-protected as a child by his mother as well.

A secondary plot arises here as we learn Helge's mother is in the hospital and on life support.  He is to make the decision when to take her off, but as the film wanders on he is shown to have great difficulty with this.  We are left to guess that his mother quite possibly was abusive with him, as he struggles with an inner conflict regarding ending her life.

His understanding and sympathy of Anna's situation stems directly from his delicate relationship with his own mother, and makes Helge a fragile yet compassionate man and a suitable companion for Anna. 

Meanwhile, Anders makes a  friend at school and is insistent that he comes home with them. The young lad doesn't say much, and Anna finds it even more unnerving when later, during a walk by a local lake she sees a man drowning a young boy - Anders' friend.
She waits till the murderer leaves then she herself jumps in the water in an attempt to save the boy.  She wakes up in a hospital with no recollection of how she got there.
When she later takes Anders to the same lake, she is shocked to see that the lake is not there.  It's a parking lot.

The Monitor makes good use of the confusion you will most assuredly have throughout parts of the film. It is a fine example of a woman's fragility and fear, wrapped up in the anxiety that she may not be altogether stable. Is she hallucinating? Is she losing her mind? Is she seeing (and hearing) ghosts? It's relatively hard to tell until the shattering ending.

 If you like psychological thrillers, you will no doubt like this movie - though it does move at a quiet, snail's pace at times.  The sparse cast is all you need, and they deliver fine performances.  There is no real blood and guts here, thankfully, as it would prove utterly pointless. This is a character piece, and I'm happy to have taken the chance on it.


Justin Wong said...

Oh jeez, this sounds great. I love the slow burn movies too, thanks!

Christine Hadden said...

Hi Justin,
Thanks for reading! And yes, this is a slow one for sure - and very foreign in nature. Hope you like it, I did :)

James Gracey said...

I've been curious about this since seeing the trailer earlier this year. It kinda looked like a weird sci-fi version of Insidious (burglar alarms going off during the night, dark figures looming over beds). It's been a while since I saw a cool sci-fi/horror; I may have to check it out. That it's a slow-burner adds to the appeal.

Christine Hadden said...

James: I'm going to guess you meant to post this comment for the review of "Dark Skies", so I'll redirect anyone reading this to that review.

And on that note, I think you'd like it, so give it a shot :) x