Mar 9, 2015

Review: The Babadook (2014)

All summer I've heard talk of Australian horror film The Babadook and I was intrigued to say the least. I'd say that there are only a handful of legitimately good horror films released in a year and it really looked like TB was one of them. All I knew about it was that it involved a children's book as well as a mother and her son. I made sure to keep it that way too because nothing spoils a movie like knowing way too much about the story, especially for horror movies.

How director/writer Jennifer Kent got around to doing The Babadook is pretty interesting. She originally started out as an actress before falling out of love with it. After seeing Dancer in the Dark, she was inspired to write to Lars von Trier, asking to learn under his personal tutelage. Amazingly, she was invited to assist him during the filming of Dogville. Kent's first work was actually a short called Monster in 2005 which eventually formed the basis of The Babadook.


Genre: drama, horror, thriller
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Produced by: Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere, Jan Chapman, etc.
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Running time: 94 minutes
Production company: Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions
Distributed by: IFC Films, Sundance Selects, Umbrella Entertainment, etc.
Country: Australia
Language: English
Budget: $2,000,000
Box office: $4,864,169 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear, Cathy Adamek, Craig Behenna, Adam Morgan, Peta Shannon, Hachi



Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) has raised her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) as a single mother ever since the death of her husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear). Amelia is unable to put his death behind her despite insisting that she has. Meanwhile, Samuel begins exhibiting increasingly bizarre behaviour centered around a certain monster. When a strange book called Mister Babadook appears in their home, Amelia too begins to feel stalked by a malevolent presence.


What's interesting about The Babadook is that it honestly makes me think of a short horror film that's been massively extended. The production values, the effects and the editing all combine to give it that feel and I really like it. Short films don't usually have much of a budget obviously, but they're able to come off as very high-quality these days when they're properly put together.

It's the same thing with The Babadook which only has a budget of $2 million. It looks and sounds a lot better than that because of Kent's insistence on perfecting every little detail to do with the production. The set for the house where 85% of the film takes place in is gloriously put together. Combined with the lighting, it seems like a really dark and uncomfortable place to be in. It's so dark in fact that it feels claustrophobic which is a feeling that becomes even more pronounced as the film goes on.

Horror films need a good, patient build up and Jennifer Kent definitely delivers that. The pop-up children's book that introduces us to Mister Babadook himself is a horrifyingly beautiful prop. As Amelia reads it to Samuel as a bedtime story upon his insistence, the evolution from creepy to chilly is palpable. You start imagining things as Amelie go to sleep that night, you start putting a face to the bumps and creaks that you hear. Of course Mister Babadook makes his appearance eventually, but it all begins with that patient build up.

Mister Babadook himself? He's already one of my favourite figures in horror movie history. I'm not sure yet quite where I'd slot him, but he's memorable and has significant staying power. As the book says, you can't get rid of the Babadook. I got literal shivers whenever he was around. As a horror film character, he's also wonderfully put together in stop-motion animation. Jennifer Kent definitely keeps things old school here and The Babadook is so much better for it.

Besides being a horror movie, The Babadook surprisingly goes a little bit deeper than that. While some of the better horror movies will touch upon characters going through personal tragedies or give them a bit of a backstory, Amelia's tragedy of losing her husband is pretty much the main point of the entire movie. What this actually does is bring even more horror to the story, a less-fantastical kind of horror that's actually very powerful and not very fun to think about. (Spoilers) This has to do with Amelia's troubling thoughts about killing her son.While these scenes perhaps aren't as scary to watch as the scenes with the Babadook, just thinking about it all is an alarming thought. (End Spoilers)

Essie Davis does a great job as poor single mom Amelia. You feel empathy for her character even in some of her darkest moments. She's a real human being who isn't there to just scream and be scared which is nice. Noah Wiseman as Samuel also gets the job done. Part annoying, weird kid wonder and part creepy, seeing things kid, Wiseman does quite well for a young guy.

There aren't any jump scares in The Babadook and there isn't an overload of gore either. It doesn't need that stuff. Kent simply understands what it takes to build a credible horror movie. It might not be the scariest horror movie I've ever seen, but it's the kind of horror movie that stays with you, that freaks you out if you start thinking about it again. The fact that Kent has put together a deep, dramatic angle to The Babadook is just icing on the cake. All I can say is that Jennifer Kent better start another horror film as soon as possible.



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