Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Baby Baby Baby Oh!

For many a proud American, the beauty of this fairly young nation is its freedom, best summed up in that oft-cited first amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It's a wonderful right that I am millions of others are thankful to enjoy, the idea that if we have something to say, we may say it. If there is art we want to make, we make it. Sure, an elephant dung Hail Mary won't escape controversy when hung on museum walls, but that doesn't mean it can't created and displayed.

I bring up this matter because the low budget 2008 horror film I'm about to discuss had every right to be made by young filmmakers Lars Jacobson and Amardeep Kaleka. The problem is they made it at the wrong time in their (I assume) new careers.

Anybody who reads this blog knows that I'm not easily offended. Hey, look at my cat!

Mookie, by the way, claims Pet Sematary as his favorite film of all time. It is his dream to meet the cat who played Church and take a picture next to him while giving the thumbs up. As a result, he has continually asked me for a thumb transplant every Christmas since his 2006 adoption.

I can argue the merits of A Serbian Film and defend I Spit On Your Grave until my cat grows thumbs. And yet watching Baby Blues, a film about a harried mother of four whose post-partum depression leads her on a violent killing spree, made me want to hop in a DeLorean, cruise over to the home of Jacobson & Kaleka, and gently say "Not yet."

It's not that Baby Blues is a terrible movie. If it WAS a terrible movie, we'd be waist-deep in good-natured Lessons Learned at this point. Unfortunately, Baby Blues is something of a lower end to mediocre slasher cursed by the tease of genuine filmmaking potential. Jacobson and Kaleka have good eyes for staging some Night of the Hunter-esque chases, but their command of dialogue and actors is woefully inexperienced. Had this film tackled any other subject matter (say, a bagheaded mad man slaying teenagers, for example) this would be fairly par for the course in any new genre filmmaker's resume. But Baby Blues, loosely based on the tabloid suffocating actions of Andrea Yates, is a graphic horror movie about an unstable mother violently murdering her young children (and whatever innocent looking farm animal she meets along the way). 

If you're willing to tackle such a subject, you really should know how to do so.

Quick Plot: A young family struggles to make ends meet on a desolate farm, where dad's job as a trucker keeps him away days at a time and mom's stress over raising four young children on her own is starting to spin out of control. Only Jimmy, the eldest son, realizes how serious the issue is becoming...especially when he finds his baby brother laying lifeless on the bed as mom ominously fills up the bathtub.

From there, the story becomes akin to any slasher, minus the sex but with plenty of puns. Yes, puns. Because when your postpartem depression drives you to stabbing your second son with the back of an antique mirror, your Buffy the Vampire Slayer language skills are positively on FIRE.

I can understand why the Yates case might have inspired Jacobson and Kaleka to make Baby Blues. The questions that crime asked are truly fascinating and could certainly be discussed through any art form, be it a bestselling novel or no holds barred horror movie. The problem, though, as I hope I've explained, is that Jaconbson and Kaleka just aren't disciplined enough (yet?) to handle such material. As a result, poor Colleen Porch is stuck running around with more blood on her than Carrie White, spouting off horrid one-liners as she hunts her spawn with all the depth of Michael Myers. 

There is a fascinating film to be made out of the plot of Baby Blues. But when handled so messily by amateurs, the result comes off as either laughable ("I made your favorite dinner. Fried CHICKEN!" teases a blood-soaked Mom as she snaps a poor hen's neck), cliched (observe the token 'fall down the stairs' trick used in 80% of slasher films) or highly exploitative. This is a movie whose climax involves a mother wrestling with her child. It would almost be funny, except for the fact that one hour earlier, we watched her pitchfork her toddler to death.

High Points
It's always a pleasure when a child actor nails it, and young Ridge Canipe makes a sympathetic and believably smart hero in overalls. It doesn't hurt that a previous acting credit was on the Best Episode of Angel ever, Smile Time

Low Points
You know, the whole "We don't quite know how to make a movie yet, so let's tell the most offensive story we can" thing

Lessons Learned
When choosing your matchbook, always consider your psychotic wife's feelings

Time don’t change an animal’s instinct

Never take parenting advice from a scarecrow

Baby Blues did not dissuade me from keeping an eye on this filmmaking team. They clearly have guts when it comes to attacking their material, and their skills behind the camera do show some potential. Sadly, this is simply a film they weren't ready to make. 

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