I once read a critique for Dario Argento's classic Suspiria which stated that the best way to watch the film was to assume that you were watching someone else's nightmare. (I can't remember which critic said this and I am not taking credit for this statement. So, if you are the critic who created this theory, consider yourself cited.) This would be my advice if you choose to watch The Cradle, a film where logic apparently got lost on its way to the set.
As The Cradle opens, we witness a couple, Frank (Lukas Haas) and Julie (Emily Hampshire), and their infant son, Sam, take a ferry to an island. They conclude their journey at a somewhat neglected house which is to be their new home. They have moved to this secluded location so that Frank, a writer, can concentrate on his novel. Unfortunately, Julie has severe emotional problems and can't stand the thought of touching Sam, so Frank must constantly care for the baby. Because of this constant vigilance, Frank soon finds that he either can't sleep, or he has horrible nightmares. He attempts to seek help from his one neighbor, Helen (Amanda Smith), but she refuses to talk to him. As the pressure on Frank mounts, he becomes convinced that a supernatural presence is haunting his family.
The original title of The Cradle was "The Stillborn" which would have been a much more appropriate title, as this movie is very D.O.A. From the outset, the movie makes no sense -- and not in the good art-house film way, but in the bad, "Did I doze off and miss something?" way. The first half of the film contains scene after scene of Frank leaving the house to wander in the woods, only to get home to find that baby unattended and crying. He eventually gets a baby monitor...and does the same thing. If you know that you're wife won't touch the baby, why would you keep leaving her home alone with it? Then, a storm knocks out the electricity to the house. So, now we get to watch Frank stumble around in the darkness, both in the house and in the forest. When Frank goes to see Helen, she refuses to speak to him...but that doesn't stop him from visiting her several more times.
As noted above, watching The Cradle is like watching someone's nightmare. (So as not to confuse the fact, the movie isn't just Frank's dream.) The bulk of the movie feels like random scenes spliced together in no real order. Frank's constant walks through the woods, the power outage, and Helen's dismissal of Frank feel like one long, long dream sequence where the viewer is given very little information.
Writer/director Tim J. Brown has opted to make The Cradle a film where all of the plot twists and loose ends are wrapped-up at the very end. This isn't a bad storytelling technique and it would have worked if he had given us ANY information at the beginnings. It's not until the finale that we learn why Frank and Julie moved to the island (Frank's "writing" is mentioned early on, but it's vague), and it's not until the end that we learn why Julie won't touch Sam (the explanation is no real surprise, and will be apparent to most viewers, but having someone say it out loud was nice). We never learn exactly why they thought it would be a good idea to move to a secluded area given that Julie can't care for her child. The story's two actual plot twists are admittedly creative, and would have worked in a film with a better structure. For most viewers, it will be clear from the outset that all is not as it seems, but both twists are telegraphed early on. This is the sort of film where, once the twists are revealed, the viewer doesn't say, "Wow! That was a great ending!", but instead, "Wow! If this had been a better movie, that ending would have been killer!" In fact, someone should get to work immediately on remaking The Cradle, but with more forethought into the narrative structure.
The Cradle cries all night on DVD courtesy of PeaceArch Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is 16 x 9. As far as I can tell, the movie was shot on HD and the image is quite sharp and clear. The picture shows no grain and there are no defects from the source material. For a HD movie, The Cradle is fairly dark and it's difficult to tell what's happening in some shots. The movie has a muted color palette, but the colors and textures look accurate. One scene showed a distinct amount of video noise, but otherwise the transfer is free from any distracting issues.
The DVD box for The Cradle claims that the disc houses a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, but in reality, it's a Dolby 2.0 surround track. This track shows some issues as the dynamic range is very unbalanced. The dialogue is rarely above a whisper while the sound effects are much louder. Thus, constant adjustment of the volume was the order of the day. I noted no overt stereo or surround effects, as the bulk of the sound came from the center and front channels.
This DVD contains two extras. First, we have "Behind the Scenes on The Cradle" (20 minutes), which, as the title implies, contains a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage. Be warned, this featurette has instant spoilers, so don't watch it first. Here, we get a long series of comments from writer/director Tim J. Brown and a few from Lukas Haas and Emily Hampshire. Brown gives details on his goals for the film. The other extra is the "Original Theatrical Trailer" which is letterboxed at 1.78:1, but not 16 x 9.
At times, I wish that I were friends with David Lynch so that we could watch movies together and I could say, "Does this make any sense to you?" The Cradle is a feeble attempt to make a film where the characters and the viewer question reality. Instead we get a movie where the viewer questions the editing. The movie has no suspense or even a creepy atmosphere. The two main dream sequences are laughable, despite the disturbing ideas that they imply. Do yourself a favor and put The Cradle back to bed.