FANGORIA’s Stream to Scream: Noomi Rapace in “THE MONITOR”
As many fright fans already know, FANGORIA offers a great selection of gruesome movies, old and new, for free at our Hulu channel. To give you a better idea of what’s available, FANGORIA is taking in-depth looks at some of the channel’s terrifying titles with Stream to Scream. Today: Pål Sletaune’s THE MONITOR.
Norwegian filmmaker Pål Sletaune aims to prey on myriad fears and unsettling worries in THE MONITOR (aka BABYCALL). There’s the titular device itself, a baby monitor designed to help parents rush to their child’s side should any emergency arise, but also highlights the anxiety of being “so close, so far.” For what if you’re already too late? What if you witness something truly terrible via sound that happens down the hall, or just downstairs? Those frightful notions have been explored in recent years by Alex de la Iglesia in his THE BABY’S ROOM and to a smaller extent by James Wan, in a memorable moment of INSIDIOUS. Both those films are examples of another eerie notion: the supernatural has its own frequency with which certain devices can tap into. As THE MONITOR unfolds as something of a mystery, that possibility looms ominously throughout. Yet another, more grounded, disquieting option lies in the film: that of accidental voyeurism and the question of what to do if someone nearby is being abused.
Noomi Rapace stars as Anna who, alongside her son Anders, was abused and is the central figure of THE MONITOR’s true focus of fear, the questioning of one’s own sanity and its resulting paranoia. Even if Anna wasn’t slightly delusional about the things she’s seeing and experiencing, she wouldn’t be of sound mind. Not after her ex-husband tried to drown their son. This leaves her in a new apartment, forcing Anders to sleep in her room and hesitant to even bring him to school. As she attempts to surge on, a baby monitor seems like a strong aid in the struggle. Of course, its intersection with someone, or something else hinders any progress.
There’s a recurring motif of opening and closing windows, and window shades, in THE MONITOR. As you may imagine, Anna does much of the shutting, typically directly after someone from Child Services will attempt to make a room brighter. These actions continuously close Anna herself off to the world around her—one that she feels is out to get her—and thus either opens her up to something otherworldly or force her retreat further inside her head. The first instance of closing comes very early on, almost immediately after a striking opening shot of a very physically wounded Anna. Both beats help craft a quiet, chilling atmosphere which Sletaune exploits by often framing Anna in a cold, lonely manner. A large jacket and pants shroud Rapace’s small frame and as the actress stunningly portrays someone frayed, we see she does not fill the space she occupies but is engulfed by it.
THE MONITOR runs the risk of being engulfed by itself. Sletaune admirably takes his time with the film, living in Anna’s struggle and providing character-based scenes, instead of just a means to a scare. He’s able to develop the kind, but melancholy relationship between Anna and Helge (Kristoffer Jonner), a sweet, wounded department store employee. He’s able to follow Anna on strange walks through the woods. The filmmaker also seeks to explore a world where women who act out of turn, or are uncertain, are met with accusations of insanity almost immediately. Coupled with an eerie new friend for Anders, there’s a lot to breathe in, something reflected in the film’s end which seems to marry multiple explanations. But considering Sletaune’s fantastic approach—one not directing you to be frightened by easy cues or jumps—that’s also a lot to be utterly engaged in and affected by.
The most affecting thing in THE MONITOR though, is undeniably Rapace. Sletaune’s aesthetic is moody and haunting, but his lead is even more so. Rapace stuns as Anna, elevating the film and making the tiniest of beats unforgettable, such as her response to being told you can’t get soaked by dreaming you’re underwater, or when she admits to her delusions. While THE MONITOR is surely considered minor next to her breakthrough work in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy and subsequent English-language pictures like PROMETHEUS, the film remains a showcase of her command. It all feels more than a little akin to the not-often-discussed Mia Farrow-starring THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (aka FULL CIRCLE), yet another instance of moody, neat little thriller.