‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’ BIFAN 2023 Review: A Disturbing Piece Of Vietnamese Horror

Rock-a-Bye Baby

Vietnam is frequently overlooked in the immense realm of Asian horror, but Lê Bình Giang is helping to change that. The controversial filmmaker first gained attention (both positive and negative) with his gory debut, KFC. He achieved cult status elsewhere after being criticized—not to mention expelled from university — in his homeland. Lê’s next film, Rock-a-Bye Baby, certainly dials back the transgressive element. However, this study of the true-crime boom is no less intense or upsetting.

Be it millions of people glued to their television sets as the Menéndez brothers and O. J. Simpson each stood trial for homicide, or the onslaught of true-crime podcasts and documentaries, murders have consistently drawn a big audience. This is where Rock-a-Bye Baby comes in; Lê’s newest film explores the intrigue of murder, and how that fascination became another form of consumable entertainment over time. Of course, the central character in this story has more at stake than the average true-crime buff.

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A lot of films slap on a “based on true events” title card for effect or publicity, but Rock-a-Bye Baby uses it earnestly. With no other context just yet, the film immediately opens on the aftermath of a killing spree. The instant aesthetic is glossy when contrasted with the rest of this film. Upon meeting the primary character, a vlogger named Long Trần (Phong Trần), the presentation then abruptly changes from meticulous and artful to urgent and candid.

Rock-a-Bye Baby is similar to an anthology. Trần falls into the crucial role of narrator as he digs up three real-life crimes for his channel “Memory of Murder.” Trần’s casual and direct appearances are typically confined to his smartphone screen, however, his three death tours are in the style of documentary reenactments. Trần literally inserts himself into the segments on occasion, walking through scenes like a stumped clairvoyant searching for clues. Those appearances can be disruptive, but this is ultimately Trần’s story. The protagonist is investigating a personal trauma connected to all three of these heinous crimes ripped from Vietnamese headlines.

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The slaughter shown in these recreations is straightforward without also being sterile. Trần’s morbid fascination intentionally fuels the segments, giving them drama, energy, and, in a weird way, appeal. Yet in spite of their overall appearance, no two cases are alike. The first is premeditated revenge, the second is a home invasion, and the third is a crime of passion. Lê does not pull punches in these reconstructions. There are indeed cinematic flourishes all throughout, but the filmmaker is using them in a specific context. Trần, after all, is an embodiment of overly enthusiastic true-crime fans, and these depictions are seen through his warped, hungry eyes.

From start to finish, Rock-a-Bye Baby is lawless. Its unflinching execution will surely not be for everyone, to say the least. In the end, though, the film never holds back or even attempts to make something like murder more palatable like a lot of true-crime media does. Using images — graphic ones at that — Lê frequently questions what is too much, even in an age where “too much” has become the norm. Audiences will likely be divided or plain repulsed by it all, but if nothing else, this film could turn into a benchmark in Vietnam’s own potential “new extremity” movement.



Lê Bình Giang’s ‘Rock-A-Bye Baby’ is an intense and upsetting study of the true-crime boom.



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