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The Babadook. 2014. Directed & Written by Jennifer Kent.
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, and Tim Purcell. Entertainment One.
This movie certainly has been hyped up a lot as of late. Several critics who’ve written about it all seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Most recently, William Friedkin (for the uninitiated – the legendary director of classics such as The Exorcist, Sorcerer, The French Connection, and Cruising just to name a few) said he’s “never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook… it will scare the hell out of you as it did me“. If that isn’t praise of the highest order, I do not know what is – the director of one of the most, arguably the most, scary film of all time basically said this film is going to give you nightmares.
While I don’t disagree whatsoever with anyone saying this movie is an absolutely terrifying piece of modern horror, I sometimes wish people wouldn’t hype up a film too early before people are able to see it. Not that a film such as The Babadook can’t handle the hype – on the contrary, this movie can eat your soul if you let it. There are times hype can often dull a person’s opinion going into a viewing. Unfortunately, we live in modern times, and such a life, without hype, really no longer exists.
But like I said, The Babadook delivers what the hype has promised. In piles.
Jennifer Kent wrote and directed this film about a recently widowed mother Amelia (Davis) whose late husband died in a car crash while they were on the way to the hospital for her to give birth to their son, Samuel (Wiseman).
Smash cut to 7 years later. Amelia and Samuel aren’t exactly having an easy time with things. Even auntie Claire doesn’t seem to want to be around Sam; everyone thinks he’s weird. Soon, he has to be taken out of school awhile because of his behaviour. Sam doesn’t sleep much anymore. He also starts building weapons to fight off monsters. One night, Sam asks his mother to read him a book; it’s a strange looking, red velvet-ish covered book called “Mister Babadook”, and is filled with strange, twisted imagery. Try and try as she might, Amelia cannot seem to get rid of the book. Her first inclination is that somebody may be stalking her and Sam. Eventually she realizes there are more sinister forces at work.
The plot of The Babadook is really great because it poses as something we’ve seen before yet when things get down to the nitty gritty, this film stands out on its own.
The story is essentially about the darkness of our own minds; fear, guilt, rage. For instance, you always hear the best things about motherhood – aside from throwaway jokes, you never hear moms, especially a relatively new mom, talking about how terrible it can be sometimes when you’re alone, on your own, just you and a screaming, inconsolable child. Kent explores the frightening territory of such stories.
I don’t mean to say Kent is trying to make it seem like all mothers have homicidal thoughts concerning their children or anything. The Babadook is a story that comes down to the dark side of human nature.
The ending, though I won’t actually give it away, is a perfect example of how Kent uses Mister Babadook as a type of metaphor for the darkness and the ugly parts we hide; the things we stuff down, but eventually can, and will, boil up, and maybe even burn somebody. In the last scene when Amelia comes up from the basement and meets Sam in the backyard, her son asks how it went, to which she replies something along the lines of “not as bad today”. Sam looks brightly at his mother with a smile on his face, looking proud, and says “it’s getting better mum”. Right there, you can see how the ending (the basement, et cetera) is a metaphor concerning the darkness, the grief, all the rage and bad feelings – you can never get rid of it (just like The Babadook), it will always be there, however, you learn to live with it, you lock it away, feed it now and then, and go on with your life.
Or maybe it’s just a scary movie about a creepy, supernatural figure like something out of a German Expressionist film from the 1920s or 1930s. Who knows. Jennifer Kent wrote it, not me. Although I like how I interpreted it – works for me.
One of the things I really enjoyed was the acting on behalf of Essie Davis. She knocked out a powerhouse performance here. Without a strong female to play the lead here, the film would not be the same. Had a lesser actress been trusted to hold this up, I’m not sure it would have the same effect. She was spectacular. Previously I’d only seen her in the TV adaptation of The Slap. Here, she really impressed.
And honestly, I have to say the same for little Noah Wiseman who played Samuel. There were times I felt his terror was genuine. His face is very expressive. A lot of people online seem to give the consensus they were annoyed with his character; me, I loved it. He was at times the innocent looking little lad Kent wanted him to be. Others, he was able to convey pure terror and a lot of emotion. Good job on his part.
Another couple noteworthy aspects of the whole production I love include:
– Jed Kurzel’s score: this guy has fast become one of my favourite composers in film as of late. His often quiet, rhythmic scores are beautiful accompaniment to the movies he works on. Previously I’ve really enjoyed his scores for Snowtown, Dead Europe, and now of course The Babadook. There’s something about the way he scores which makes the music feel like an undercurrent to the film, carrying it along the way a proper score should, and adding to the intensity of emotional or scary moments. The score in this film was a nice and subdued addition I really thought made some of the frightening scenes work even better than expected.
– The look of Mister Babadook himself. The very first time we get a bit of a glimpse at him, I was jarred. As I said before, there’s certainly an element of German Expressionism from the early 20th century in there (think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), which of course I really dig. Looks a lot different than most anything you’ll see nowadays. Instead of going for some demon-like creature, or a monster, Kent opts for a human-looking being with a sort of top hat, long black coat, and eerily long fingers. The face is what really gets me, and I think that’s the part that really reminds me of Caligari specifically. Even the way Babadook moves (the part where he descends upon Amelia in her bed from the ceiling scared the life out of me) reminds me of an old silent film. Very, very creepy.
Overall, I don’t hesitate in giving Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook a raging 5 out of 5. There’s nothing wrong with this movie. While I could’ve done without one part later in the film (a very brief moment in the basement where Amelia throws up; I felt there wasn’t much need of it really is all – not a dealbreaker by any means), everything is absolutely flawless. I can’t find anything I did not like about this film. The suspense and tension was there – that’s one thing I always love in a great horror. If there isn’t any sort of build, no tense moments leading to a greater fear, there’s just no way I’m going to really be genuinely creeped out, and certainly no chance the film will scare me to death. And that is what I’m looking for – I want to be frightened beyond belief.
The Babadook really scared me. There’s no blood and guts. In fact, there are only very quick shots where any blood or anything similar is shown. With this film, what you’re signing on for is truly psychological terror. This isn’t about death here so much as it’s about fear – it’s about the darkness in our hearts, in our minds. This film succeeds in bringing the darkness. Mister Babadook is a horror legend already, as far as I’m concerned. Kent really did a fascinating and unsettling job with this horror. Cannot recommend it enough to do the film justice.
The Babadook is now available on VOD through Amazon and iTunes, as well as finally on DVD and Blu ray.