Monday, June 22, 2015

The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent

Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West

I don’t get why excellent horror films like The Babadook get a limited theatrical release while terrible horror films like Ouija (2014), a poor excuse for a horror film so nauseating with its blandness that I didn’t even bother writing a review for it, get a wide release. It makes no sense to me! The Babadook is an obviously superior horror film! So well crafted! On the other hand, Ouija is a nonstop avalanche of clichés and cheap scares, yet its Ouija that gets the wide release. But whatever, we all know Hollywood embraces formulas and runs away from originality. So it’s up to us, the film lovers, to discover fine films like The Babadook and tell the world of their awesomeness. For those not in the know, The Babadook is an independent Australian horror movie made by first time film director Jennifer Kent and it’s all about a single mother protecting her son from a boogeyman. While The Babadook didn’t get the wide theatrical release that it deserved, it is finding its audience in the home video front. Like many films of its kind do, it’s steadily building its cult audience with reviewers raving about its spookiness.

The Babadook tells the tale of Amelia and Samuel, a single mom and her child. Samuel is displaying signs of odd and antisocial behavior at school. It’s becoming a problem to the school, his family and even his own mother who desperately screams at him “why can’t you be normal!” Still, Amelia loves her son, warts and all, even though everyone else seems to reject him, even his aunts and cousins who can’t stand being around him. One night, Samuel asks his mom to read him a story before going to bed, so she looks through Samuel’s story books and finds a book called ‘Mister Babadook’. She doesn’t know where the book came from, but she starts to read it. As she turns the pages and reads, she realizes this book is far too creepy for kids, so much so that he ends up crying after reading only a few pages! Soon after Samuel starts seeing Mister Babadook all over the place. Is it all in his mind? Or is Mister Babadook really stalking Samuel and Amelia?

The Babadook is an effective horror movie because it has all the right influences coming from all the right places, and pretty strong ones too. For example, as I watched this movie all I kept thinking was how much it reminded me of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), my personal favorite Polanski film about a young ladies descent into madness. It also reminded me a bit of the crazy father figure in Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and the crazy religious mom in Carrie (1976). The director also showed appreciation for Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath (1963), by showing a clip from it during a particularly creepy scene in the film. Other shots show love and appreciation for William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), who by the way had this to say about The Babadook after having seen it: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook, it will scare the hell out of you as it did me” Now that’s a lot to say, specially coming from the guy who made The Exorcist (1973)! There’s even hints of the German Expressionism aesthetic here and there. So as you can see, this movie is an amalgamation of lots of great horror films, yet also displays lots of originality. Question is, is The Babadook actually that scary? Which of our fears does it play with?

Above, a scene from The Babadook (2014), below, a scene from The Exorcist (1973)

I think the root of the films effectiveness comes from the fact that it plays with our fears of being a parent, of thinking our kids are weird somehow because of their particular child like behavior. Ever seen your kid grinding their teeth at night? Scary, but only because we don’t see ourselves doing it when we sleep. Children’s fear of imaginary monsters makes us think our kids are schizophrenic, truth is all kids are scared of imaginary things. The filmmakers effectively use these fears against us, so in many ways, a parent will enjoy this horror film a whole lot more then someone who’s never had a child of their own. Why is Samuel so apparently disturbed? Is his behavior justified? Or is just weird and screwed up? Amelia, the mother in The Babadook is dealing with these issues all on her own, while at the same time dealing with her husband’s death. So we have the fear of being alone, the fear of losing a loved one, which is to say, the fear of death.  All these fears are embodied in the form of the terrifying ‘Mister Babadook’, a character that looks like a mix between Lon Chaney in London After Midnight (1927) and Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Like I said, the inspiration for this film comes from all the right places.

The film works with the notion that the less we see, the more it will scare us. Truth be told, you don’t see Mister Babadook that often, but when he is in the room, you will feel it. I suggest turning up the sound on this one, the director effectively mixes sounds with visuals.  Another asset is that this film looks amazing in the sense that director Jennifer Kent pays close attention to atmosphere, ambiance and horror movie lighting. This means everything on screen is carefully constructed to look and feel spooky, dark and scary. Rooms are dimly lit, skies are gloomy, trees are dead, leaves are falling, the wind is blowing and shadows move in the dark. The film is perfectly creepy this way. Like some of the best horror films, The Babadook shows you just enough to creep you out and then lets your mind do the rest of the work. This film is an impressive debut for director Jennifer Kent, who by the way was an actress before she was a filmmaker, which probably explains why the performances from everyone in this film are excellent. Final words are that this movie is a special type of horror movie, don’t let the Baba-dook-dook-dook escape you, turn down the lights and watch this one in the dark.

Rating: 5 out of  5    


Roman J. Martel said...

Glad you liked this one. I really enjoyed it too. Really got under my skin, and the acting in this movie... DAMN. I really believed these characters, even when the supernatural events kicked in. Really a fine horror film all the way round. Great examination of this one!

Cybolic said...

Though I hated the ending (I would much have preferred it didn't go the supernatural route and kept to its character building) I agree that it's one of the best horror films of recent years and that its first 40 minutes or so are absolutely excellent.

A small correction: You accidentally mention the Simpsons parody of The Shining instead of the real thing ;)

Sergei Kolobashkin said...

This one was released in Russia directly to DVDs. I was shorting bricks the other night while watching this. Great film. Great review.

Franco Macabro said...

Cybolic: I guess they went with the supernatural thing, but it still symbolic of her dark side, her madness...which she has to keep in control. I liked that while it did go into supernatural territory (which I personally love) it also retained that symbolism about it. I corrected the typo, thanks for mentioning it and thanks for reading and commenting!

Sergei: It was also released straight to dvd where I live, glad you enjoyed the movie and the review! Greetings from Puerto Rico, thanks for reading Sergei.

Cybolic said...

Francisco: Yeah, I get that the symbolism is still in place and I generally don't mind supernatural stuff at all, it just felt like a jarring switch to me; where the film so far had been walking the edge of the two explanations, it just suddenly went full Linda Blair. Maybe if the dog scene had more of a built-up, it could still have still worked for me, but it seemed much to abrupt for my taste. I'm glad you and so many others like it though; we need all the good horror we can get these days!

You're very welcome for me reading ;) Yours is one of the few good review blogs out there :)

Franco Macabro said...

Agree, it does go full on Linda Blair, The Exorcist is one of this films biggest influences. Thanks for the kind words! I'll keep writing if you keep reading. :)


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