The Babadook

the-babadook-poster

Release: Friday, November 28, 2014 (limited) 

[Redbox]

Written by: Jennifer Kent

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

It’s official. I’m in love with horror once again.

It’s some kind of feat the hype surrounding Jennifer Kent’s much-acclaimed horror film has gotten to the point where it feels like watching the ‘scariest film in years’ this far into 2015 is, yeah, a little like you showing up to a birthday party a few hours late and profusely apologizing. The apologies are accepted, but the fact is you’re still late.

The Babadook isn’t a particularly original film. It’s a tale of possession dressed in the decay of William Friedkin’s slow-burning and dread-inducing 1973 masterpiece, only this time the beast is somehow of an even more inexplicable nature. It’s about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis) doing her best to cope with life after the shocking death of her husband Oskar several years ago and having to deal with the increasingly erratic behavior of her six-year-old son Samuel (a young and brilliant Noah Wiseman) who is convinced something is haunting their house. When the two come across a children’s book named Mister Babadook one evening, Amelia isn’t convinced it is appropriate bedtime material but Noah insists she read it to him. Strange occurrences ensue with steadily increasing frequency.

Of its many borrowings from memorable horror of the past, Kent’s nail-biter features creepy shadows, fragile and/or susceptible characters, tense atmosphere and an intimate setting that traps feelings of isolation and paranoia with remarkable precision. And the description ‘haunted house feature’ wouldn’t be too far off-base, either. Goodness knows there is more than a heaping helping of those kinds of horrors out there, and while not all are even close to being legitimate wastes of your time the catch-all term almost seems to automatically dismiss the hype surrounding this Australian phenomenon as overzealous. Even prefabricated.

On a performance basis alone, The Babadook soars above its contemporaries. Wiseman embodies a child with severe behavioral issues so as to confuse the strategy of casting with happening upon an actual child with these kinds of problems on the very streets of Adelaide. His character may well work on your every last nerve but you can be sure he takes a much bigger toll on his mother. And Davis is sublime in the role of a bereaved woman now sleepwalking through life as a middle-aged widow working as an orderly at a retirement home. Because the tandem are so convincing Kent never allows us the luxury of relaxation in her world. There’s no solace in this drab environment, even with kind neighbors like Barbara West’s Mrs. Roach, who suffers from Parkinson’s, or an empathetic colleague in Daniel Henshall’s Robbie.

But Kent isn’t content with settling with a performance-based thriller. Even if this is shot on a relatively minimalist budget you’d never know it because the environment compels — much like the power of Father Merrin’s exorcist rites compels you — to keep watching. Transitions featuring a sprawling tree outside the house reinforce the threat of something sinister lurking in the house; they also distract effectively from the fact that the physical disturbances may not be the worst things Amelia and Samuel have to deal with. Kent’s most impressive feat is the ability to ratchet up the tension in terms of the things we can actually trust in Amelia and Samuel’s surroundings. What is real and what isn’t? What is in their heads and what is actually in the house?

That oft-underutilized technique — the power of suggestion — is employed with devastating yet completely enthralling effect in the the film’s harrowing final twenty or so minutes. It is in this sequence of low light and high anxiety we are exposed not to what that ever-elusive beast really is but rather the stuff that Jennifer Kent is made of. She is a master of horror in the making, teasing imagery from the likes of The Exorcist and The Shining in a way that both elevates her film’s seriousness of purpose and honors the work of the legends of a tenebrous past. Buckets of blood aren’t necessary for creating one of the most chilling finales in recent memory (yes I am encompassing all genres in that remark, and yes I am talking about the moment all the way up until credits roll).

In a time where the genre has begun dabbling in grotesque torture, in animals-as-predatory villains, in real world disasters-as-backdrops in order to entertain increasingly niched audiences it’s becoming harder to find films that like to keep things simple. Stories that speak to our concerns with specific aspects of mundane existence — in this case, the challenge(s) of single parenthood — and slowly modifying that reality until it becomes something truly twisted. That’s the formula for really good horror: making the threat seem real. The Babadook is an unqualified success in that regard. It’s an instant classic.

essie-davis-and-noah-wiseman-in-the-babadook

4-5Recommendation: Though I can understand that after awhile such lofty praise can become a bit intimidating or off-putting, and it sure seems that the above rave review won’t help quell the urge to disbelieve, I personally am in favor of it. I didn’t think I would be. With incredibly strong performances and a memorable, demented creature at the center of it all, The Babadook should prove to be at least an entertaining 90 minutes. However if you’re strictly anti-horror, there’s probably nothing it can do nor I can say to sway you. But as a former skeptic of horror myself, this has restored my faith in the genre for sure.

Rated: NR 

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy. You can bring me the boy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.mattmulcahey.wordpress.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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45 thoughts on “The Babadook

  1. Great review Tom! This was excellent and I was quite a fan of it 🙂 Glad to see it ticked all the right boxes for you!

    • Oh man, let me tell you! I haven’t been really excited for horror in a long time and before watching this I couldn’t contain myself. Haha. So maybe my expectations helped me give this a perfect score, but really. This thing rules! I want a babadook of my very own…..

  2. It’s on my Netflix watchlist. Finding caught IT FOLLOWS on the big screen and was not disappointed. Love the return of mood, dread in horror without the overused visual effects. Fine review, Tom.

    • It Follows and this are among some of my modern horror favorites. Whereas It Follows was less subtle, it was moodier. The Babadook is a more standard kind of storyline (reminds me a lot of The Exorcist) but man does it have one doozy of an ending. Won’t say anything more, don’t want to spoil it for you.

      Happy watching!

  3. Bam! Another horror flick that just kicks ass all over the outback! 8 out of 8! Oh yeah! Love this flick and the haters can take a walk. Awesome and insightful write up, Senor Tom.

    • Thank you! Definitely was a hell of an experience. I at times can side with the opponents, because it really is a story that has been done before and depending on what people consider is “scary,” this film’s final 20 minutes is really the only time when the scares really start physically showing themselves. For me, though, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman’s performances sold me early on and I just enjoyed how much I bought into their situation as it went on. I’m glad we are on the same page with this one Vic!

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  5. This seems really good Tom. I’ve only heard good things about it! However, I really am a scaredy cat with horrors. I should maybe give this one a try in broad daylight!

    • You should! 🙂 I found it to be pretty awesome. A fun horror movie, if there ever was one. And watching it in daylight might be a good idea! 😉 I don’t often get scared or bothered by horror, but this one did it!

    • ‘It Follows’ was more creatively weird. The ‘thing’ that followed people was in itself pretty spooky but I’d never would call that movie scary. I have an easier time calling ‘The Babadook’ scary even though I don’t think it’s really “terrifying” either. Rather what it suggests is pretty scary.

  6. Great write up mate, I’m glad you liked it 😀 Kent is my favourite Aussie director at the moment, what I loved most about this film is that the mother is the scariest thing about this film. The final 20 minutes you alluded to reminded me a lot of Rosemary’s baby – you seen that Tom?? If not, go do it, now! Its very similar to this film but with a better ending. Psychological horror, that is where its at. Gore and torture isn’t horror IMO, its a totally differenty genre to proper shit like this

    • Rosemary’s Baby is definitely awesome. Very much enjoyed that, and yeah I think the comparisons between the way these movies end is pretty accurate man. Psychological horror is certainly my horror of choice. 😀

      • Hells yeah 😀 we are definetely on the same page there, gotta love that shit. IMO -any- good horror movie should have some sort of psychological element. Just look at It Follows. That stuff is what is most scary! None of the classics have bucketloads of blood and gore (The Exorcist I guess is sort of an exception maybe). They are much more psychological. I hope more movies go down this path as it is what horror truly is IMO.

        btw, you gotta see Repulsion man, especially if you dug Rosemary’s Baby!!! Its even more creepy that It Follows, the Babadook and Rosemary’s Baby!! 🙂

    • Hey thanks much for the comment and reading what I had to say! I did enjoy this and am glad to have finally viewed it.

  7. Inspiring review, Tom! So it definitely looks like I might be the only person on the planet that didn’t think much of this film. I think I need to see it again.

    • There’s always room for a different opinion on this blog (though most of the time I just toss them into the trash. But I won’t yours because I like you. 😉 ) hahah.

      No, but for real, I can understand how it may not work for you. Watched this with my roommates and they both thought it was overrated.

  8. Itch,

    Great post! I loved this the first time I saw it but……… I watched it again the other day and…….. it might be a one trick pony….. I didn’t hate it the second time or anything but…. *shrugs*

    Love,

    Ipes

    • Esteemed Ruler of the Ipeness,

      I can say that when I watched this again and again it lost its shock factor but I found it no less enjoyable. This I think has more elements of a thriller than a horror. But, who knows. I’m just glad I can say that I’ve seen it and didn’t quite wet my jockeys!!!

      Love and potatoes,

      T-Shit

  9. I used to watch horror movies when I was younger until I scared myself so much I could not be alone. The images, music, chills and gore replayed itself over and over in my head. I would like to see the Babadook. I want to support a female director; yes, I feel like I missed the party as well. Very nicely written review, Tom.

    • Cheers Cindy! Haha I am glad I never did that to myself when I was younger, though I did probably destroy any chance of having realistic expectations about growing up by watching cartoons on Nickelodeon and Disney endlessly. I thi k that’s why I’m kinda weird now. 😉

      The Babadook is a very solid bit of horror. Please let me know if u put up a review for it.

    • Thanks for the encouraging words! The Babadook I was afraid wouldn’t live up to the ridiculous hype but in my estimation it did. Had such a great time watching even though ultimately I feel I have seen “scarier” films. The Exorcist still has this one beat in that regard. And I want to see Night of the Living Dead SOO bad!

    • Yeah definitely man! I watched it multiple times over the weekend. Rarely do I do that with horror films. This one was great!

  10. Sure. it’s scary. But it’s made all the more engaging by how much attention is paid to the characters and their relationship together. Nice review.

    • Appreciate the love dude. Yeah, that’s one aspect I really could have talked about more in this review. I think I got a little sidetracked talking about all the hype surrounding it haha

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