First off, I’m honestly disappointed this movie isn’t getting a wider release.
Yes, it’s got the Video OnDemand option going for it, and I’m glad for that. At the same time, a movie like this is perfect for a dark movie theater, and if you can get to one for this, I’d recommend doing so.
But, that’s just a matter of moviegoing preferences. Now let’s get to the movie itself.
The Babadook is a movie I had initially heard of when it was gaining buzz with horror community. I had largely filed it away until finally seeing a trailer in October. After that, it was a running game to figure out when the film would be coming here.
Thankfully, the movie was worth the wait.
The story is altogether tightly focused. We have a supporting cast, but really, it’s almost entirely a matter of our two leads and the monster with which they have to contend.
The two leads in question are Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Samuel, we learn, was born the night Amelia’s husband died; in fact, he was killed in a car crash driving her to the hospital. As a result, there’s an unspoken tension between Amelia and her son- she still loves him, but there is tragedy hanging over them.
Samuel is…well…Samuel’s a handful to say the least. Determined to protect his mother in his father’s absence, he shares a belief in magic and monsters that has lead to him making potentially dangerous defenses to deal with the latter. In this regard I have to commend Wiseman as a new actor- he straddles the line between sweetly likable and aggravating perfectly. This is vital for the way this story plays out, but I’m getting ahead of things.
Their shaky home life takes a turn with the arrival of an unusual children’s book, telling of a malevolent entity called Mister Babadook. This being, the story says, will try to get into your house; once it’s inside, it can’t be stopped, and when you see it, you will ‘wish you were dead.’
Young and impressionable as he is, Samuel is terrified. Also somewhat shaken, but still believing it to only be a story, Amelia finds herself more and more frustrated with Samuel’s behavior, and starts losing control herself. she begins to wonder how much of what she’s feeling is her own anger, and how much may in fact be the titular Mister Babadook.
It’s that element of uncertainty that propels a bulk of this movie. If you’re expecting to see a lot of the Babadook, you’re in for some disappointment. The entire idea behind the creature is that you won’t see it there, but once you’ve let it in, there’s no getting it out. The entire premise is almost fiendishly simple in how it’s executed. It feeds on fear, it drives its targets from within, and pretending it doesn’t exist – in its own words – will only make it stronger.
Further playing on this uncertainty, Davis is well cast as Amelia. She has to manage to be both sympathetic, but also frightening as the movie goes on, and she achieves the balance well. In particular with regards to that latter emotion ñ as tensions rise and she begins to snap at her own child, it becomes legitimately uncomfortable to watch at points. Rather than feeling over the top, her anger feels natural, which makes it more unsettling.
For a directorial debut, Jennifer Kent has made a strong first impression with this movie. I know some have said they didn’t find it scary, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree. This film plays in escalating dread to great effect. Yes, there are few ‘payoff’ moments, but with the nature of this enemy, it’s better that way – it’s almost more in the Babadook’s nature that its movie would leave the audience dreading what could be coming.
That said, what we do see of the creature is (like a lot of the rest of this movie) a good case for well executed simplicity. I mean, on paper, the Babadook is a very simple concept for a monster: an ominous figure in a hat and cloak with long, clawlike fingers. However, the way the movie presents it makes for an incredibly creepy figure. What few scenes we see it, it genuinely looks like something out of a nightmare.
On the filmaking end, Director Kent is showing a strong eye for a first time out. Further bolstered by some great cinematography by Radoslaw Ladczuk and sharp editing by Simon Njoo, the movie has a distinct look that also plays into the film’s blurring of dream and nightmare – an effect further added to by the film’s ways of depicting dreams that are a nice change from the usual ‘snap cut to awake’ approach.
The film does have a few minor problems – most notably a third act that sets up certain points it seems like it will deliver on, only to leave them. Overall, it’s a fairly strong horror film, and one it’s one that really benefits from the movie theater experience. It’s still solid on its own, but that theater does wonders for the film’s already heavy sense of dread.
Of course, there is also another interpretation where the ending holds up well that I won’t go into here for the fact it spoils some things. Let’s just say it makes for a more personal fear and an interesting use of unreliable narrator.
With this as her first time out, I’m already interested in seeing what Kent may have in mind for future projects. Having both written and directed this, she’s shown some strong creative chops and now that she’s proven what she can do, I’m hoping it gets fostered well from here out.
For those who are wondering, no, this wasn’t the seasonal feature I mentioned in my last Flash writeup. That’s still coming, I promise. I just wanted to get something good in before I took that on.
Till then. I may be drinking when I get to that one.
-Some great acting and cinematography
-Uncertainty in the film used very effectively makes the film work on multiple levels
-Ending is a bit abrupt. Still satisfies, just feels like it could have been built on a bit more.