The Baby

The Baby [Movie review by Jori]

The Baby84 min., 1973
Directed by Ted Post
My rating:  **
IMDBOfficial Site

A disturbingly dark story overshadowed by ridiculously dated mediocrity.

* * *

Social worker Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) has taken a very special interest in the Wadsworth family case.  Mrs. Wadsworth (Ruth Roman) has two daughters and the titular Baby (David Mooney) – an adult male whose development hasn’t progressed past the age of about six months.  Are the Wadsworth women cruel in their negligence?  Are they purposely keeping Baby that way?  But what is it about the case that has Ann obsessed?

Writer Abe Polsky has a sick and twisted mind – and I mean that as a compliment.  This is no ordinary story by any stretch of the imagination.  Right when you’ve decided who the “bad” guys are, you have to wonder.  There is a lot of ambiguity, from the lingering question in my mind as to how all the social workers up to this point could possibly think it was normal up until the ending when you really have to question if the motivations were truly evil or just misguided.  None of the characters are inherently good or evil, they are humans making all sorts of tragic mistakes.  (The babysitter comes to mind – I don’t actually think it was intentional even though it was reprehensible.)

The biggest tragedy here is the way it is presented.  It suffers from a horribly outdated look that can’t just be explained away.  Germaine Wadsworth (Marianna Hill) has hair that even the most hardcore eighties lady would run screaming away from.  Her hair is large enough to have top billing.  The outfits are not only very early seventies, but the wardrobe choices are confusing.  Alba is perpetually dressed as some sort of cutie tennis player, Germain always looks like she was dressed by a blind person and Mrs. Wadsworth reminded me of Mrs. Roper as a truck driver.  There is also a lot of lag time during character development that should have been tightened up.  Scenes that are disturbing are sometimes filmed as an afterthought that deflates the impact it should have.  (The most disappointing scene being the one where incest/rape was implied – if you’re not paying attention you probably wouldn’t even catch that implication.  It felt more like a disjointed add on scene until you realize what the hell they’re not telling you.)

The acting was standard fare – not incredibly impressive, but definitely not laughable.  Comer as the innocently sweet social worker was almost a bit too saccharine.  Roman as Mrs. Wadsworth is truly intimidating – this is a rough woman who will take care of her family, social conventions be damned.  David Mooney as Baby brings disturbing to an entirely different level.  He does a spot on impression of mental retardation, so eerily real that there is no room for giggling.  That is an impressive feat, especially considering when I first heard about this I was all like “A grown man in a diaper?  Hells yes, I could use a good laugh!”  He succeeds in getting the viewer to empathize with him as an infant instead of becoming a laughingstock.

This felt more like a TV movie than an actual film, leaving so many unanswered questions.  How the hell do they live in a house like that, if they’ve been on the welfare system since Baby was born.  What is the dynamic between mom and the sisters?  Why does the social services office not seem to offer the appropriate services for Baby?  At least in our day and time, children with special needs are given options to receive services such as speech therapy and the like to improve their standard of living.  At the very least, why did no one suggest institutionalizing Baby sooner than Ann?  The entire movie felt like more of a vehicle for the end game, rather than truly showing you what these characters are experiencing.

It is a rare instance that I would champion the cause for a remake.  This is just too good of a story to be left languishing in DVD limbo.  There were some truly jaw dropping moments, and the ending is deliciously sinister – I can’t help but fantasize how this would look if it were updated.  In the hands of Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee, this thing would explode!  It is a bit hard to swallow, especially if you are a child of this millennium, to take it as seriously because of sadly outdated feel of the entire film.  But if you can try, I would suggest you give it a chance.  Forget the visual representation (and the cheesy paint – err I mean blood) and focus on the essence of the story.  That alone is almost worth sitting through it.  This is true psychological horror – I just don’t think the director knew that at the time.

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About Jori

Being a stubborn girl, Jori insisted on watching scary movies as a little girl and proclaiming "I'm not scared!" from behind her oma's rocking chair. Much sleep was lost in the early years due to paralyzing fear, and her uncle Albert deserves a special mention for unwittingly showing her Monkey Shines. Jori spends her adult life trying to recapture that initial feeling of terror that she experienced as a child. Follow her on Twitter at @fvjori.

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