The horror films that really rattle us are the ones that speak to us on some very personal level. The Exorcist is scary because we fear the people we love changing into something we no longer recognize, either as a result of sickness or some unknown reason. The Descent terrifies me not because I'm afraid of cave monsters (they're not so bad) but because I'm horribly claustrophobic and Neil Marshall fucking knows it.
Jennifer Kent's debut film The Babadook upset me in ways that few horror films have been able to manage because it speaks to all of my doubt and insecurities as a parent. Raising kids is tough, even when your kids are the best (my kids are the best). You're more exhausted than you ever thought possible. You can't get a second to yourself. You can't reason with this person or get them to think or act the way you want. It can be incredibly frustrating, but only half as frustrating as the way that you end up punishing yourself for feeling frustrated in the first place. We live in a time when every blogger and member of a Facebook parent group is Instagramming and humblebragging about their amazing kids and the amazing adventures they have and the amazing recipe they cooked for their amazing kid's amazing second birthday party. No one seems willing to admit that there are days when it's really hard.
The Babadook admits it. Even better, it translates those insecurities and frustrations into the language of a horror film, and a really good one at that. It is to parenting what The Shining is to alcoholism.
One day, Samuel asks his mom to read a story from a book she's never seen before but is sitting on their shelf. It's a pop-up book called Mr. Babadook, which tells the story of a boogeyman who can't be ignored and will never go away once his existence is acknowledged. And just like that, Amelia begins to see things and hear things. Maybe Mr. Babadook isn't just a story after all.
Starry Eyes as one of the best of the year in a genre film or otherwise. Amelia is doing her best to get by but it's clearly not working for her or her son, and Davis shows us every crack, every forced smile that's covering all of her fear and pain and frustration. She's incredible. And, again, there is an Act Three misstep that Davis does her best to sell, but she's really at her best when she's quietly falling apart, or finally losing her shit and then trying to make it up with the most heartbreaking bowl of ice cream you'll ever see someone eat.
There is so much that's great about The Babadook that it pains me to see the movie stumble near the end, and yet even those mistakes can't erase what writer/director Jennifer Kent (making her first feature) is able to accomplish. The film has greatness in it; the few scenes in which it really cuts loose with the scary are strong enough for the movie to catch on with audiences that might otherwise dismiss based on the title, while the main metaphor -- the level on which The Babadook really works -- carries a weight that speaks to the indie crowd. Like many great horror films, Jennifer Kent uses the genre to explore deeper issues that feel uncomfortably honest and real. It's the kind of movie that made me admire how much it was upsetting me.
The Babadook is currently playing in limited release and is available on VOD and iTunes.
This is why I love this site. This is a movie I would of let sneak by because of the title. Now im actively looking for it. CheersReplyDelete
Why, oh why, is this not playing anywhere near me? I'm going to throw a tantrum if some of these great horror films don't start releasing over my way.ReplyDelete
Wait, Adam above. Didn't you read the kicker after the review? It's available VOD. You can watch it. Learn to read, moron.Delete
Third act problems seem to be running rampant lately. At the very least it seems to not destroy this movie. Definitely going to give this a watch though.ReplyDelete
Great review Patrick - I liked The Babadook A LOT but I find most of the rave reviews it's getting (and mostly deserves) don't properly temper expectations when it comes to the third act. Not that it's bad, it just comes across as fairly average in comparison to the brilliance that precedes it - your review sets expectations perfectly.ReplyDelete
The best thing I can say about it is that it touches on pretty much every one of my 36-week pregnant wife's deepest fears/anxieties right now and when a scary movie really starts getting to her she usually just stops watching - she couldn't help but watch all of The Babadook!
I had a perfect viewing experience with this. I had to watch after the review of course. I watched for a good hour and loved it every minute of it. Strange. Dark. Atmospheric. Loved it. After a long day at work I then fell asleep and have not yet seen the final act ;)ReplyDelete
Just finished watching. It's odd because I seem to have the inverse reaction to everyone else on this one. I actually really liked the third act (maybe it was because I was dreading it due to expectations) and think the movie works really well as a drama. As a horror movie, it didn't do much for me. Overall, it's really good though.ReplyDelete
What an amazing film from start to finish. Great review, great film!ReplyDelete
I realize this post is pretty old now, but I just got home from seeing The Babadook (it opened in a small local theater tonight) and I feel like there are a million ideas trying to burst out of my brain. Of course, I won't say any of them because I wouldn't want to taint anyone else's thoughts on it. What I will say is that everybody should see this movie whenever it becomes available to you. I would say go buy the VOD, but if you think you'll have a chance to see it in a theater, wait for that.ReplyDelete
The reason I say this is simply because of the sound. The visuals are good, don't get me wrong, but the sound mixing in this movie blew me away. It builds tension to a torturing level, but in a good way. Oh yeah, and having an audience around will be great to validate your emotions when you almost pee yourself, or when you laugh at a really unexpected beat.
I didn't have nearly as big of a problem as you with the third act. I totally get why you did, but I agree with JB's comments on the recent podcast about how the ending makes up for it. He and I seemed to have a similar take-away from the last couple of scenes. At the end, me and one other couple sat through the credits and finally got up when there was nothing left to project. We agreed that we just needed some time to process what we'd just seen.
Oh, if you were wondering, yeah, I liked the movie.
Saw the film a couple of weeks ago---it was only playing at one arthouse theatre I knew of. I read about it on their site (the only way I even found out that it existed, since it got no promotion) and ran off to see first chance I got. I liked the fact that the film was almost a throwback to when films actually tried to and could scare you without relying on exclusively gore or CGI. I can't remember the last time I was actually scared looking at mere old-school font print in a book, or even just mere creepy pictures from a book. It definitely gets to you on a ore psychological level than anything else, and I like how it's ambigious as to whether the mother is actually losing her mind or whether the creature is real and terrorizing her and her son. Pretty noteworthy flick that deserves more promotion than it's been getting.Delete
I just got to see this movie over the weekend, and I really enjoyed it.ReplyDelete
I might be more in the Riske camp on this one though, as I really liked the ending. If there are multiple interpretations of this my view my be influenced by my own. I appreciated and enjoyed the fact that it didnt stop being the metaphor for grief and depression in its conclusion. It held its ground and overall gave it more consistency. A feel a lesser movie would have had it play out that the Babadook is a boogey man that gets defeated and they all live happily ever after. I liked how it stuck to the idea of Babadook being the end point/dark bottom of the depression/grief pit. Therefore the idea of needing to accept the grief and loss really rung true, opposed to a "get over it" approach. I also felt that this was more consistent with the character investment, and played out well from an emotional stand point, so im not too sure what Patrick means by the metaphor placeholders vs human characters comment, because for me it all worked on the personal character level.
Im interested to hear elaborations if people are interested.
Finally saw this movie and it did not disappoint. I will be recommending this to everyone.ReplyDelete
This simple yet shiver-inducing tale, the auspicious feature debut of Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent, makes for one of the better horror movies of recent times.ReplyDelete
Metaphorically works, but subtext is Sub for a reason. Movie fails to deliver a coherent dramatic ending. You can make a monster represent our need to come to terms with our past, but first and foremost it has to be a monster.ReplyDelete