La Habitación del Niño (The Baby’s Room)
The opening scene of The Baby’s Room is set in the past and contrived. It echoes the great Spanish horror movie El Orfanato. Children play hide and seek. The scene is designed to give a sudden shock, let the audience know that a ghost story will follow and hint at the solid aesthetic values of modern day Spanish horror. It prepares the nerves. Many years later, but an instant in the movie, we meet a young couple. Sonia and Juan own the old house in which the strange event occurred and they are busy renovating enormous walls and rooms. The elder sister of Juan and her husband visit the couple. They inspect the house and examine the baby of the couple. They are snobby. It happens. All young couples are burdened by family and soon realise that the hope of independence is an illusion. The scene is important because it demonstrates that the lives of Sonia and Juan, like that of all young couples who decide to have a family, consist of work, performance and the condescending scrutiny of older people. The scene confirms that these demands will be endless and that the couple will be tested.
The Baby’s Room was one of six episodes made for Spanish TV. BBC TV bought The Baby’s Room and ignored the other episodes. All episodes are available on DVD. The budget was modest. Nobody thought they were making masterpieces but The Baby’s Room is slick, sensible and hits the right notes. The film belongs to the TV series Seis Peliculas Para No Dormir (Six Films To Keep You Awake). All are watchable and superior to the average horror TV movie. Seis Peliculas Para No Dormir is good and satisfying horror. The opening credits to the series features a bloodied hand playing with an eyeball. The titles are written in blood. Of the six films The Baby’s Room is the most accomplished. To Let is the best of the rest. Although To Let is not the equal of The Baby’s Room, it is essential. To Let is a decent tribute to the Italian movie and cult favourite Suspira but also features the interesting Macarana Gómez. This Spanish actor is a good lookalike of Barbara Steele whose wide open eyes amplified the terror in more than one Italian horror movie. Big crazed eyes help horror films. The presence of Gómez in To Let is a deliberate and a neat tribute.
The Baby’s Room moves at a fast pace. Terror and domestic conflict soon follow the appearance of the figure in the room of the baby. Juan has an interesting home, a beautiful wife, a charming baby and an enviable job as a journalist. All are represented in the film as a burden. The home requires constant work and looks unfinished, the wife is irritable, the baby cries at night and the boss of Juan, although sympathetic, makes demands. Juan sits at a small desk, and his colleagues in the newspaper tell corny jokes and are a warning against what might happen to Juan. It is no coincidence that the home of the couple is in the same urban block as a care home for the elderly.
The presence of something strange in the baby room is discovered by the audio equipment that the couple bought in order to listen to the baby. Disturbed by the noise, Juan buys a monitor that allows them to see the baby in the other room, the baby room. Soon he has a bank of monitors installed in his house. Juan buys the monitor from a young shop assistant who has the kind of beauty that only is seen on the carefree. She is very tall and much taller than Juan. Her extra height symbolises a freedom and superiority that is beyond Juan now that he is married. Juan pretends that he is buying the baby monitors for friends. Juan is a faithful husband. He is not flirtatious with the shop assistant but neither does he want her to know that he no longer has the freedom that she possesses. Nothing compromises the creative like parental responsibility. No doubt scriptwriters are good parents but they can be resentful of domestic tasks. Harry, He’s Here To Help is a French thriller that is unabashed about the conflict between parenting and creativity.
After his wife leaves, the baby monitors bought by Juan are not used to observe the well-being of his child but to pursue the mysterious figure in the baby room. The child monitor is an apt metaphor. Truth about the past and certain secrets are only accessible by parents. A child is born and the future of Sonia and Juan changes to oppressive fate. Providing you take a peek this is what the past and time explain. Domestic responsibility and the continual work and performance demanded by elders will alter their marriage and change Sonia and Juan just as it did the wrecks in the care home next door. The sex between the couple is affected by these demands. It is brief and is desired as relief rather than pleasure. The strain on beautiful Sonia is obvious. The return visit to her mother is premature. What happens to her in the final scene does not make narrative sense although it is a perfect thematic fit and satisfying.
The Baby’s Room is smart, so smart it even quotes quantum physics. Schrödinger’s Paradox considers the evidence that sub-atoms exist in two separate locations. If extended to objects this phenomenon would allow a cat, the example quoted in the paradox, to exist in two separate rooms. Schrödinger used the paradox to argue that more work needed to be done to understand this feature of sub-atomic physics. In the film an aged journalist, relying on something called the Copenhagen interpretation, presents the paradox as proof that there are alternative existences. There are other explanations of the paradox, none of which as yet have robust proof.
When I watched The Baby’s Room the film was 77 minutes long but in another cinema or room who knows. At 77 minutes the movie has too many characters but this weakness is perhaps deliberate. It accelerates the narrative and allows for a wide variety of exposition. The existence of many characters is more than compensated by the cameo performances. The acting is solid, and each character has characteristics that define him or her as unique, ponytails, glasses, location, occupation and so on. The older actors are also charismatic. The men have commanding voices that come from throats nourished by nicotine, and the women have confidence and fading beauty. The editor of the newspaper where Juan works is a rarity in movies these days, an attractive and complicated bully. The senile lady in the care home does no more than confirm that she has memories of mysterious events inside the house. She is played by Maria Asquerino, an actress who in her youth looked like Gina Lollobrigida.
Sonia and Juan and their concerns, though, dominate the film. Both are credible. Their initial response to the mystery of the baby room is to escape. When they do return to the house, they have valid reasons that overcome fear. Sonia wants to save her marriage, and Juan wants to prove that he is not crazy. In another sense they are a young couple with nowhere else to go, trapped in the responsibility they assumed when they had a baby and bought the house, when they decided to become adults and to forget being young and those days when it was possible to work in a shop and be carefree. When Juan visits shops, they are vast open spaces that emphasise how his parental responsibility has made him anonymous.
From the beginning of the film there is conflict in the relationship of Sonia and Juan but it is modest. This is not a dysfunctional relationship. Conflict between them is created by others. Sonia and Juan argue about how they should respond to relatives and authority. At the end of the film it is others, not Sonia or Juan, who decide the future. We all have a history, of course, and none of us knows when it began. What is certain is that the history of everyone has roots way deeper than anything that we remember. This is something that The Baby’s Room obliges us to acknowledge and understand. Those elders who insist that their descendants will have family responsibilities had to listen to the same demands from their relatives. If a cat can exist in two separate rooms, we are being glib to think it is only those that exist in the present who will be making demands on our conscience. We all go back a long while. And if we are lucky, we can avoid the other rooms that exist in the past. But who knows what will happen to us all in the end.
These are creepy thoughts even by the standards of horror movies. The Baby’s Room is not just disturbing. It is also amusing and entertaining. The film has surprises, interesting characters played by a good cast and no dull scenes. But there is more to life than fun. More important The Baby’s Room, like the babies that sleep there, will keep you awake.
Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. If you are interested in original horror and crime fiction and want information about the books of Howard Jackson and other great titles, click here.