After she hit the international stage as Lisbeth Salander in the original "Girl With, etc." trilogy, but right before she hit American screens in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and Prometheus, the excellent Swedish actress Noomi Rapace starred in a dry, slow, and generally predictable psychological thriller called Babycall, which, due to the reasons mentioned a second ago, has been recently released on American DVD under the title of The Monitor. Clearly inspired by the tech-centric gimmicks found in J-horror films like The Ring and One Missed Call and presented as a deliberate yet adequately compelling character study, The Monitor is neither a horror flick the actress should be embarrassed about nor a hidden treasure that fans will soon discover and champion.
The Monitor is the tale of a young mother and her eight-year-old son who have taken up residence in a bleak apartment building, in an effort to avoid contact with the boy's horribly abusive father. Anna (Rapace) is so paranoid about her son's safety that she purchases a baby monitor that will allow her to hear what goes on in the kid's bedroom. But then a bunch of unsurprising things happen: Anna hears phantom sounds coming from the electronic box; the guy who sold her the monitor seems to have his own emotional problems to deal with; a pair of nosy government workers suddenly drop by and make Anna feel even more desperate and worried; and a quiet neighborhood kid seems to know something unsettling about the apartment building.
None of this is very novel or exciting, but to the film's credit, The Monitor does assemble its basic parts into a perfectly serviceable psycho-thriller. Much of the credit can be thrown in Ms. Rapace's direction; her Anna is both sympathetic and slightly off-kilter, which allows a viewer to feel for her plight, even if they don't entirely trust all of her actions. Kristoffer Joner adds a strong counter-point to Ms. Rapace's bleary-eyed and unsettling performance: despite being just a little bit "creepy" in his own right, his character helps to warm up a generally chilly tale. A few supporting players do fine work (including Vetle Werring as the unhappy kid), but this is really a Noomi Rapace "vehicle," and the actress has no problem carrying a starchy but engaging thriller on her back for 95 minutes.
The downcast look of the film and its low-key approach to potentially supernatural occurrences work in its favor, as does the uniformly strong cast. And for a film that contains an obvious handful of familiar concepts and themes, writer/director Pal Sletaune manages to keep his plot threads balanced as he offers just enough mysteries to keep us guessing -- and an ending that you might see coming, but is actually pretty satisfying.