First-time writer-director Christine Parker's "Rashomon"-like concept for "Channelling Baby" provides some intriguing situations in the early stages but veers out of control in the last half-hour. With a powerful lead performance from popular Kiwi thesp Danielle Cormack ("Siam Sunset"), pic should do OK on its home turf, but overseas theatrical sales are more iffy. There should be a life in ancillary, however.

First-time writer-director Christine Parker’s “Rashomon”-like concept for “Channelling Baby” provides some intriguing situations in the early stages but veers out of control in the last half-hour. With a powerful lead performance from popular Kiwi thesp Danielle Cormack (“Siam Sunset”), pic should do OK on its home turf, but overseas theatrical sales are more iffy. There should be a life in ancillary, however.

As a hippie back in 1971, Cormack’s Bunnie was blinded when she took drugs during an eclipse of the sun; one of the last people she saw was a Kiwi soldier, Geoff (Kevin Smith), bound for Vietnam. Later, when Geoff is wounded in action, he and Bunnie meet in hospital and love blossoms.

They marry and have a baby, but the unstable Bunnie is an erratic presence. One night, Geoff takes off with the little one, and neither is seen again. Assuming her husband killed the child and maybe himself, too, Bunnie has lived ever since in lonely seclusion.

Twentysomething years later, Bunnie meets Cassandra (Amber Sainsbury), a medium who promises to put her in touch with her lost baby. Somehow, Cassandra and her brother, Tony (Joel Tobeck), manage to locate the long-lost Geoff, who joins them in a seance.

For a while this story of mother love and loss intrigues, but in the last half-hour, as more and more skeletons emerge from the closet, it becomes borderline ridiculous. Various characters tell their versions of what happened to the baby, and by the time the moppet herself enters the fray with her story, many in the audience will be heading for the exits. Concept might have worked with more precise and inventive treatment.

Still, Parker shows a talent for creating interesting characters, and the early scenes are well handled. But a ruthless script edit was needed.

Cormack is fine as the tormented heroine, though other key members of the cast struggle with their impossible characters. Technical credits are up to par.

Channelling Baby

(DRAMA -- NEW ZEALAND)

Production

An Oceania Parker Ltd. production, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission. Produced by Caterina de Nave. Directed, written by Christine Parker.

Crew

Camera (Film Unit color), Rewa Harre; editor, Chris Plummer; music, Peter Dasent; production designer, Brett Schwieters; costume designer, Kirsty Cameron; sound (Dolby), Chris Burt; line producer, Judith Trye; assistant director, Robin Murphy; casting, Liz Mullane. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 19, 1999. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Bunnie ..... Danielle Cormack Geoff ..... Kevin Smith Cassandra ..... Amber Sainsbury Tony ..... Joel Tobeck
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