Is there anything more terrible than the abuse of a child at the hands of an adult? As a matter of fact, there is: the abuse of a child at the hands of an adult that they trusted. It’s a sad statement on our times that news about the physical or sexual of a child is now almost routine. It’s getting to the point that with each successive case, we’re becoming less and less surprised about the depravity. Even when considering the worst of humanity, there is a more worse, and No Lullaby is a perfect example of the worst of the worst, a startling true story that’s too emotional to be faked, and too terrifying to believe.
Director Helen Simon introduces us to a middle-aged German woman named Tina. That’s not her birth name, but after Tina remembered the true events of her childhood, her original name felt dirty and polluted, so she became Tina instead. “I don’t know what my childhood was like,” she says candidly. She has no memories after she was 9 or 10, and for the longest time she was under the opinion that her formative years were happy and uneventful, and that she had a wonderful family. That’s the power of the mind at play, a protective bubble of non-specific happy thoughts built to protect the psyche from the fact that Tina’s dad abused her repeatedly and in increasingly perverted ways as she grew up.
For such a horror, it’s appropriate that Simon direct portions of this film as if it were a horror movie. No Lullaby opens with a shot from the camera’s point of view approaching an ordinary house, on an ordinary street. But the bleached out tones, the foreboding music and the voiceover all set a mood of sombre reflection and unsettling memories. The message is clear, out of a setting so mundane comes a story so utterly horrific that it didn’t just affect one generation of children, it affected two.
If the sucker punch that Tina’s boogeyman is her own father isn’t enough, it’s quite the startling development when we learn that he inflicted the same abuse on his granddaughter too. The details are too ghastly to repeat, but needless to say, one should have a strong constitution if intending to watch this movie.
In a way, Tina was blessed to have the time and opportunity to forget what happened because it allowed her to build a life and create the tools that she would need to emotionally recover when her mind allowed itself to remember. Her daughter Floh wasn’t so lucky though. She descended into drug use and prostitution, even as she and her mother pressed charges to have the old man put on trial. It’s Floh’s suicide note we hear being read from at the beginning, and her death hangs like a shadow throughout the entirety of the film because it’s not until the very end that we learn the how, even though we’ve always known the who.
To tell the story, Simon doesn’t sensationalize anything, she just interviews Tina, presents transcripts from the trial of “Mr. D,” shows footage of Tina’s now stable and happy domestic life with her partner Isabelle, and takes us down darkened hallways and empty, otherwise, unremarkable rooms to illustrate the loneliness and fear of a woman and her child who just so happen to share the same ghastly story. The movie is quite candid about what happened to them, and the discussion is explicit and uncomfortable, which is exactly as it should be. Tina is easily admired for her courage and for being open about the horrors that befell her family, and it’s an emotional ride thorughout.
No Lullaby is quite sobering, and quite unsettling, taking the unimaginable and making it very real for the audience. It’s a movie that stays with you and infests your mind with the sheer evil that some people are capable of, and it’s exceptionably difficult to forget. Simon, making her first feature, shows a sure and steady hand behind the camera, and knows how to hold her punches to make sure they hit with maximum effect. A story like this, some would say, is unbelievable, but Simon and her team make it completely believable and truly disturbing. Is it enough to make you not want to trust another human being ever again? Maybe. But maybe that’s exactly the point.
No Lullaby is a real-life horror story told with shocking honesty and brutal emotion. This one's not for the faint of heart.