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Baby's Room
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by Jay Seaver

"A funny, creepy exercise in parental paranoia."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Alex de la Iglesia is a reasonable omission from the "Masters of Horror" series; it skewed North American and this Spanish director has spread his work across multiple genres. Fortunately, a similar series in Spain did include him, and "Films to Keep You Awake" produced things closer to feature-length with (I'm told) better production values. de la Iglesia's entry, at least, is a winner.

After a prelude with kids playing hide and seek, we meet Juan (Javier Gutierrez) and Sonia (Leonor Watling), a young couple with a seven month-old baby and a much older house that they've just moved into. Juan's busybody sister Teresa (Eulalia Ramon) and her smug husband Marcos (Ramon Barea) stop by, incidentally dropping off some hand-me-downs. Most are useless, but they set up the baby monitor, only to hear strange sounds coming from it. They install a security system and upgrade to a new monitor that includes a camera, but that just shows Juan somebody in the baby's room. Sonia doesn't see it, and an increasingly paranoid Juan is referred to paranormal expert Domingo (Sancho Garcia) by his boss (Antonio Dechent).

While de la Iglesia has dabbled in many genres, he and writing partner Jorge Guerricaechevarria have always been most at home with black comedy, and some of the best moments in The Baby's Room are also among the funniest. Early on, they defuse any thoughts about what a cliché-ridden situation the young couple perhaps having their first marital problems might be, and nearly everybody has a great line or three. The scene where Juan first sees something on the baby monitor and goes to investigate is a small masterpiece of comic timing, one of those sequences where everyone in the audience laughs twice - once when they realize where the scene is going (and it doesn't hit them all at the same time), and once when it finally gets there.

It's not all fun and games, of course - de la Iglesia and Guerricaechevarria have come up with a clever twist on the haunted house story, one which they have Domingo explain to the audience in terms of quantum physics rather than angry spirits. Keeping with the theme of making a smart horror movie, they have Juan attack his problem systematically, appealing to our curiosity even as it seems he's going off the rails. They gleefully prey on a parent's fears without being tacky about it.

Javier Gutierrez's Juan is the most frequent target (and, as he breaks down, cause) of those fears. Gutierrez is in just about every scene in the movie, so it's a good thing he's fun to watch: He tosses off one-liners with ease, and has great chemistry with just about everybody he shares the screen with, Leonor Watling especially. She's got the sometimes-thankless job of being the same person who doesn't see all the strange stuff that Juan does, and she does a rather nice job of having Sonia still try to believe in him without looking the fool.

Though The Baby's Room was made for television/video, it looks very nice. The only indications that it may not have the budget of a full feature are it's relatively short running time - a packed 77 minutes - and the absence of some of the eye-catching camera work that de la Igelsia often employs. There's a nice tracking shot or two, but the director opts to create tension by generally staying close to his characters and not calling attention to himself. He also holds back on the graphic violence - his goal is to scare the audience, not just shock them.

And he does a pretty darn fine job. "The Baby's Room" could easily be released in theaters, except that Spanish TV-movies are even less likely to surface in the English-speaking world than de la Iglesia's theatrical features, which are frustrating enough to find. Hopefully that will change soon - he's far too enjoyble a filmmaker to remain obscure even by cult-movie standards.

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originally posted: 07/06/08 22:36:49
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 19-Aug-2008



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