I’ve always been fascinated by the disparate ways people view certain locations and situations...
...For my part, I have a constant ability to turn even the most innocuous scenarios into anxiety-inducers almost immediately, as if my brain splits every situation into a spidering number of possibilities and tries to follow each of them to fruition. I imagine this is some sort of sideways defense mechanism and more than a little symptom of anxiety, but it’s also a pretty great writing tool if harnessed well enough.
Watching Katherine’s Lullaby feels a little like watching the product of one of my brain’s spider-path scenarios. Written and directed by Savvas Christou and making its regional premiere at Panic Fest, it follows Lily (Tori Kostic), a young runaway kidnapped after stumbling on a house in the woods who must pretend to be her captor’s daughter if she wants to survive and escape. Nothing about the film is quite what it seems, however, and even that broad description only barely scratches the surface of all the turns the story takes.
Houses out in the middle of the woods have always been a little unnerving to me. The prospect of having no one in any sort of immediate vicinity, while peaceful sounding to some, strikes me as nothing short of a nightmare scenario. When you find one, whether you love it or are as wary as I am, such isolated-feeling houses seem to have an unshakeable air of mystery about them. Much of this feeling can be rapidly resolved depending on who lives inside, should the adventurer who found it be brave enough to knock on the door. In Lily’s case, she’s desperate to find her boyfriend Neil (Jarius Carey), with whom she has run away and who went in search of a stream to refill their water supply and never returned, so finding the house should have been a relief. But when her banging on the door and cries for help are not immediately answered, she is understandably on edge. It doesn’t take long for her to realize just how unstable her situation really is. Evan (William Kircher) has been trying to cope with the disappearance of his daughter Katherine (Meghan Hanako). So, when Lily, who we are led to believe looks at least a little like her, shows up on his doorstep he is so stricken with grief and relief Katherine is all he sees. We know she’s not really Katherine but he, unfortunately for Lily, does not seem able to tell the difference.
Katherine’s Lullaby is…difficult to describe. There is a sense of throwing viewers constantly off kilter by giving the story so many twists it becomes hard to track exactly where our anxieties and sympathies should lie and, on a couple of occasions, who the real victim is. Everything we think we know about where the story is going shifts nearly without warning halfway through the story, and again in the third act, and there are so many possible avenues presented to us at various points it’s almost impossible not to notice when one of them gets brushed aside in favor of another twist in the tale. None of the characters are really given enough time to fully develop in any way that allows us to deeply connect with them, and some of the most interesting threads that would foster this connection are abandoned beyond a broad strokes mention.
To the film’s credit, the idea of a constantly fluctuating narrative to cope with a traumatic reality seems central to both Evan and Lily’s motivations, filling every interaction they have with a push-pull sort of tension I didn’t quite expect. At one point we are also presented with clashing views of the environment of the house itself that almost forces us to confront some preconceived notions we had been led up to that point to foster. Every house is someone’s home, after all, no matter how uneasy it may make an outsider feel.
Despite these flashes of possibility, Katherine’s Lullaby feels mostly unsure of just which path it wants to follow. Its compulsion to keep viewers on their toes occasionally leaves us with far more questions than answers, and its briefly sketched characters and background offer equal parts confusion and unease. It is a film about fear, obsession, and abuse amid a cast of occasionally morally ambiguous characters and, while there is certainly something intriguing beneath its surface, it didn’t quite reach the potential I think it truly has.
By Katelyn Nelson