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The Babadook (2014)

December 19th, 2014 by unkle lancifer · 11 Comments

I apologize if you’re already tired of hearing about THE BABADOOK. Until recently I was tired of hearing about it myself. I was assuming people were only talking about it because the title is so enjoyable to say. I just found out though there’s a completely different reason this little flick has gotten tongues a’ wagging and that reason is the rarest of all- THE BABADOOK is actually really good! I know, I’m shocked too! I thought horror fans only rallied when they were instructed to by manipulative marketing campaigns but in this case, the enthusiasm is on the up and up. THE BABADOOK totally deserves the attention it has and will continue to receive, and that’s coming from someone to whom hype is a serious buzzkill. If you crave gore (who doesn’t?) or are frightened by jolty noises, cats being thrown in windows or killers suddenly appearing in medicine cabinet mirrors after they are closed, this may not suit your needs but if you dig the type of paranoid horror that burrows deep into your psyche and makes you squirm like a worm on a hook… then it’s a goldmine. THE BABADOOK left me with a fear I have not felt since I finished watching SESSION 9, which is a fear not of an evil outside myself but a fear of an evil covertly camped out in some dark corner of my own head. That’s good stuff!

Viewers may recognize the terrain but be warned that while you’re noting the nods to REPULSION and THE SHINING, writer/director JENNIFER KENT, aided by a knock out performance by actress ESSIE DAVIS, is cleverly crafting characters that you can’t help identify with and feel empathetic towards which brilliantly pays off in maximizing the stakes. It’s easier (and probably wiser) to sell this movie as a “kid’s imaginary friend turns out to be real” flick but it’s anything but. It’s much more concerned with how grief and depression can eventually eclipse everything when left unattended and how frightening it is to live in fear of your own rage. I never truly agreed with STEPHEN KING when he complained that JACK NICHOLSON was too crazy at the beginning of THE SHINING to make his psychological downfall dramatic enough but now thanks to DAVIS’ performance, I finally see his point. She’s really incredible in this and she reminded me how truly crap-your-pants terrifying it is when you are a kid and you witness a trusted adult’s face transform in fury.

KENT’s direction and storytelling is equally impressive as she insists the audience keep on their toes and never lets them rest with a black and white perception of the goings on. We look at things through the child’s eyes and the parent’s eyes and each take turns being either terrified or terrifying. At one point KENT utilizes a horrific image from the “Drop of Water” segment in MARIO BAVA’s BLACK SABBATH (1963) but I think it is his underrated last film, 1977’s SHOCK (aka BEYOND THE DOOR 2), with its precarious reality, ambiguous antagonist and distressing mother/son bond that BABADOOK is most indebted to. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t bring a casserole of its own to the picnic. If more horror films took half the time BABADOOK does in establishing its characters the world would be a sweeter and scarier place. It’s not a perfect film, I suppose the ending could have been stronger, but what it sets out to express it does wonderfully and it’s nice to see horror breaking bread with emotional depth rather than detached voyeurism and puerile power fantasies for a change. The fact that the titular boogey man is possibly the least interesting component is a marvel.

I tells ya, I’ve got this goofy clown doll on my desk which is sort of creepy but would never actually scare me and while I was watching BABADOOK, I looked up at it and the light hit it just right and it was like another doll altogether and I thought, “Why the hell do I own such a thing?!”And that’s what good horror does or good art in general does. It makes you look at your world through a different filter, if even for a brief moment. When you see something well done, you get to almost jump inside it for a while and if it’s really well done, it jumps inside of you.

Tags: General Horror




11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TaylorNo Gravatar // Dec 19, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    I was able to see this at a horror fest a couple of months ago, and I’m pleased as punch now that’s been released to hear the word of mouth praising it so highly. So many psychologically chilling moments…Trying not to spoil too much for people who haven’t seen it yet, but there’s a moment involving something on the television that got under my skin in a big way.

    Between this and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (which we started watching recently on Netflix Instant specifically because of her performance in The Babadook), Essie Davis has become kind of an obsession in my household. In The Babadook she’s runs the gamut from heartbreaking to terrifying…It’s easily my favorite acting performance of the year, bar none. Then you watch her in Miss Fisher and you understand what little vanity she had to play completely exhausted through the entirety of The Babadook, because in addition to her acting range she’s also a *stone-cold fox*. And not just physically…She’s a sassy, sexy crime-solving flapper who’s smarter than everyone in the room! What’s not to crush on?

  • 2 goblinNo Gravatar // Dec 19, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Before I begin, please note that this post contains SPOILERS, so proceed with caution.

    Alright, here we go. I’ve been wanting to see ‘The Babadook’ ever since I caught the trailer on YouTube earlier this year, and about one and a half weeks ago, I finally managed to track it down. While I was a bit worried at first that the growing hype might actually end up ruining the experience for me, I’m very pleased to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Yes, even the ending. I agree the last ten minutes or so did feel sort of strange in a way, but I was just really glad that, for once, a horror film had a genuinely happy ending. I have nothing to add to Essie Davis’ performance; she was simply stellar in this. She carried the whole movie on her fragile shoulders. The only gripes I have about ‘The Babadook’ are minor ones: I thought it was rather silly when the kid went all ‘Home Alone’ on his mother and the stock dinosaur sounds they used for the eponymous entity’s screams seemed misplaced.

    Also, to those who’re already thinking about gifts for the 2015 Christmas season: the disturbing pop-up book from the movie will see a release next summer!

  • 3 TombNo Gravatar // Dec 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    yeah I gladly saw it before all the hype. NPR did this fluffy expose on it… ugh!
    It got a little too frenetic at the end, but what horror/thriller doesn’t?

    (@goblin) Oh yeah!! the stock shriek!!
    Couldn’t the sound eng’s sample some
    Aussie marsupial or bird? Might as well use the Willhelm!

  • 4 M KitkaNo Gravatar // Dec 19, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    SPOILERS: I got to see this in the theatre (YAY Brattle!) and hated it hated it hated it and then absolutely adored it. It was so hard to watch, such a wringer, put my hands over my eyes for the dog stuff but then the ending was such a pay off… I am someone who loves horror, is not squeamish (except for animals getting hurt in certain contexts) but this echoed with the soul horror of The Exorcist, the actual *hurt* of what you’re seeing, in a way that was so difficult. However, I am a firm believer in loving monsters, in acknowledging our own monsters, saying hello, giving them a hug and a glass of warm milk. As a performance artist everything I do is built around this. And there was one little hint at the beginning that Babadook could be a friend… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when he did. There was the occasional clunk for me (kid being pulled away by an invisible force like blowing in the wind) but Davis’ performance (AND the kid) and the brilliant writing/directing and the warm, gooey, fuzzy, bloody, black heart of the piece made it all worthwhile.

  • 5 darkkoNo Gravatar // Dec 19, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hYK1e5jLJU

    ^^
    Holiday e-card from the Babadook!

    I did like this one, but, I kind of winced at the Home Alone type vibe at one point in the film.

    Spoilerish stuff below:

    I get how the Babadook is never going to leave, as it’s a trauma, but I wondered what is implied when she is feeding it at the end? I would think it was some kind of peaceful coexistence type of thing, but then it freaks out on her anyways.

    I pre-ordered the pop-up book, how could you not!? It looks so cool!

  • 6 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Dec 20, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Taylor,

    Thanks for the heads up on MFMM on Netflix! I felt the same way about Davis. In some ways she IS the movie and I can’t imagine anyone could have done it better. You feel like you know her and then suddenly you’re looking at a stranger and yet she never goes too over the top. I get kinda a Dee Wallace vibe from her.

    Goblin,

    I wasn’t crazy about that Home Alone bit myself. There was a bunch of stuff that I found hard to believe but eventually I started thinking of it as a fairy tale type story not to be taken in so literally. Thanks for telling me about the upcoming book! It’s a shame they couldn’t get that out before Christmas!

    Tomb,

    You’re so lucky to got to see this early! My most favorite overused sound effect is the Bobcat roar…..

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrkSivqnVq4

    M Kitka,

    I think that’s exactly what I liked about it the best. It really put me in such an anxious place. I absolutely hate when they kill pets in movies but I gave this one a pass because it wasn’t some cruel revenge kill but a symbol of just how low she had fallen (plus I like to pretend she just did that in her head!). Some folks on FB were talking about how annoying the kid was and I was thinking how necessary it was that the kid was kinda annoying so that the viewer found themselves half wanting to strangle him too. “Kid flying up the stairs” would have been on the editing room floor if it was up to me too! The “character being pulled by an invisible force” thing needs to end.

    Darkko,

    Lol, awesome card! I thought the end meant she needed to acknowledge and almost pay tribute to that darkness and grief inside of her to keep it in check.

    I’m not sure I liked the ending but I haven’t been able to think of anything else that would have worked either. Although if I made movies everything would end like DEADLY BLESSING with a demon jumping up through the floor and escorting everybody to hell for no reason. I gotta get the pop up book too. At first the pop up book in the movie bugged me because it looked so home made but then later I realized that was the point.

  • 7 micksterNo Gravatar // Dec 21, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I did not read any of the comments because I saw the word “spoilers”, but I just wanted to say that this sounds great. Session 9 creeped me out so much that you mentioning it with this movie has me really intrigued.

  • 8 whitsbrainNo Gravatar // Dec 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    **MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD**

    “The Babadook” is about a single mother who is trying to raise her troubled son. Years have passed since the death of her husband and the behavior of her boy is pure Hell. And to make matters worse, he is now convinced of a monster living in their home. The monster is called the Babadook.

    The most amazing thing about “The Babadook” is the number of ways that its story can be interpreted. You can view it as a story about the difficulties of single parenting, a tale about dealing with grief, a telling of living with a challenging child, or even just about battling insomnia. That’s what makes this movie so good. Viewing this only as a monster haunting a house will bring disappointment. You might consider watching this through the same filter as you would “The Shining”, with Mister Babadook in the role of Jack Torrance.

    Contrary to some reports, this is not one of the “scariest movies ever”. It brings the terror, but it is far from horrific. I really enjoyed Essie Davis’s portrayal of the tortured mother and Noah Wiseman as the son may have been the most frightening thing about this. Mister Babadook is an interesting creation, a cross between Nosferatu and Mister Hyde. You don’t see a lot of him and the creepiest moments are when he seems to appear in some old silent film footage playing on a TV on a particularily sleepless night. The color pallete is a depressing grey/black and the sound engineers really earned their paychecks.

    “The Babadook” is a thought-provoking tale and one that should be experienced without any preconceptions. Watch it and roll with what it offers. You will more than likely come away impressed.

  • 9 whitsbrainNo Gravatar // Dec 24, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    Oh, and not to be a dick but the dog being killed in this was really that traumatic to some? It was a minor event.

    People die left and right in Horror movies yet when an animal dies it’s too much?!

  • 10 SlasherChickNo Gravatar // Dec 31, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I saw it about a week or so ago and I agree that it is definitely an atmospheric and frightening film. The hype apparently didn’t reach me, as I had never heard of it until I saw it pop up on Watch32 and googled it. The rec from William Peter Blatty was enough for me to want to check it out.

    The one thing that almost ruined the film for me: that screaming, obnoxious kid. For half of the movie he truly came across to me as a child deliberately trying to destroy his mother. He didn’t endear himself to me in the second half, either, but by then I stopped seeing him as an irritant and started seeing him more in the way he was no doubt intended: a (mostly) helpless victim at the mercy of a force he couldn’t defend against.

    Essie Davis blew me the hell away. Her performance we absolute perfection; from the trapped, depressed and uncertain woman she was throughout most of the film to her eventual descent into batshit insanity. I have two children on the spectrum and I could really relate to her struggles dealing with her difficult-to-understand child and the chaos his behaviors unleashed on their lives. I too have experienced multiple issues at school and a child screaming from the backseat of the car for no discernible reason. The film hit me, not close to home but right at my core as a parent. I felt creepy for hours afterward because it forced me to ponder the way the world looks to my own children, with their limited ability to understand it. It is an unsettling feeling, to say the least.

    For me, that is the film’s greatest strength; it’s ability to take us into what seems like familiar territory, while exposing the hidden horrors that lurk beneath.

    I googled the book as soon as I was finished watching the film and was disappointed to see that there isn’t one yet. It’d be a great addition to my horror collection.

  • 11 SlasherChickNo Gravatar // Jan 1, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    * Friedkin’s comments about the film. Not Blatty’s. My bad.

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