I knew virtually nothing about this modestly-budgeted Australian horror film when it first popped onto The Scene. Not long after it’s arrival, people began to talk about it, some of them going to far as to declare it ‘The Scariest Movie of 2014’. Based on that, I kept myself as ‘in the dark’ about the premise as I could, so that I could (hopefully) get the FULL experience when my eyeballs finally were able to fall onto this one. And now they have.
‘The Babadook’ follows a 30-something year old widow named ‘Amelia’ (Essie Davis) as she tries to cope with both the horrible, accidental (and REALLY final) death of her late husband, while raising what seems like The Child From Hell, ‘Samuel’ (Noah Wiseman). One night, ‘Samuel’ chooses a strange red book for his bed-time story, a book neither he nor ‘Amelia’ had ever seen before. It turns out to be ‘The Creepiest Pop-Up Book EVER’, featuring a ghastly, top-hatted entity of what seems to be Pure Evil. Certain ‘symptoms’, foretelling the not-cool arrival of Mr.Babadook…Dook…Dook…Dook’ are rhymed out. Not surprisingly, this creeps both mom n son out…the boy more so. In rather short order…’The Babadook’ comes a callin.
There IS some REALLY creepy shit in this flick. To a large degree, the critics and peers were correct. This IS an effective (psychological?) horror film, that may or may not be subtly carrying an undercurrent of ‘mental illness examined’. There are certainly elements that can lead to a alternative (and rewarding) perspective of the flick, one that is somewhat ambiguously brilliant. But, The Big Question first: Is It ‘THE Scariest Movie of The Year?’…maybe…but only cuz I haven’t seen too many new and effective horror/thrillers in 2014. Pondering THAT question, my kneejerkreaction (yep…I wrote THAT) was ‘Sinister’, as the last real horror movie that did truly creep the hell outta me, but then I remember that THAT one came out WAY back in 2012 (holy shit!…Time DOES fly!). Anyway, back to ‘The Babadook…Dook…Dook…Dook’.
As I mentioned before, this flick is effective. The narrative takes on a ‘slow burn’-style of pacing that flows well with the tension (of which, there’s a lot) as it steadily rises. Added to which, having ‘no name’ (that felt ‘mean’ to write, somehow) actors, who were ALL competent and clearly committed, really helped punch the story home. Special shout-outs to the two leads, Essie Davis and young Noah Wiseman. Wiseman especially. His portrayal of a bratty, ‘potentially dangerous but potentially intuitive’ little freak of a child was spot on. I wanted to both smack him AND listen to what he had to say. There was always this ‘edge’ that had my girlfriend and I asking “Ok, what’s the deal with this damn kid?”. The hints, that there was maybe ‘more than meets the eye’, were well-played and Wiseman knocked it outta the park. Having never seen any acting work by Essie Davis, I really have nothing to compare THIS performance to, but I can say that this flick features a character who goes through a whole range of emotional states, both subtle and REALLY not so, and Davis carries them with conviction. We spent a chunk of time trying to figure out who she resembled and eventually landed on her being a love-child of Bryce Dallas Howard (‘The Village’) and Tilda Swinton (‘Constantine’). Everyone else stepped up in the supporting roles, competently ‘holding up’ the backdrop. As for ‘Mr. Babadook’, he’s a scary-lookin muthafucka! It starts off small, with strange ‘happenings’ occuring around ‘Amelia’ and ‘Samuel’ (electrical disturbances, glass shards in pudding, faint ominous sounds, etc) but soon enough, the sumbitch shows himself…and it works! We’re never REALLY shown a face, he more exists as a dark, ominous shadow creature who can move like a crazed insect, and can appear pretty much anywhere…including on top of a car in broad daylight! THAT was something that stood out…there was really nowhere safe for Mom and Son to go. When ‘Amelia’s nerve snaps (the first time), she seems intent on making her/their way over to the elderly, Parkinsons-inflicted neighbor for nocturnal sanctuary…despite one of ‘Mr. Babadook’s first real appearances having been in that woman’s living room! I kept getting anxious as ‘Amelia’ would try to come up with a plan to keep them both safe, and inwardly I was shouting “Why?!! He can get you ANYWHERE!…he’s already proven that!!”. But I had to admire her effort.
Now I have to mention a couple ‘negatives’. 2/3rds of this flick are great. The build-up and establishment of the characters and situation are paced nicely, and they pulled me in. It’s the 3rd Act where I was starting to cock my eyebrow at the screen. I love clever ambiguity in a thriller…but I couldn’t tell if this one was being somehow brilliant or was ‘pussying out’ completely. There’s something that happens in the climax that had both of us go “Huh?!”, followed by a revelation that prompted another “Huh?!”. While The Ending did a admirable job of trying to turn the conventions of the genre on it’s head, I couldn’t help to think that they essentially cut the nuts off of what had been a commendably formidable ‘personification of Evil’, with a little too much ease and too little help. It seemed that ‘Amelia’ accidentally stumbled onto the solution to ‘turning the tables’ on the monster, and then rolled with it with a lil too much ease. As for The Solution…I’ll just say ‘a dog bowl of worms?’…(and shake my head in confused astonishment). I saw what they were doing…I’m just not sure that it’s how I would’ve done it.
There was also the noticeable fact that many familiar tropes of the genre were scattered throughout the run-time. There were sequences that clearly wore their influences on their sleeve…luckily it wore them well. The story took unoriginal concepts and gave them their own ‘Babadook…Dook…Dook…Dook’ coating of paint, that worked in the unique flavor of the film.
All in all, ‘The Babadook’ was a cool, horror film that really got under my skin a few times and gave me a story/ presentation that strongly alluded to a clever dual-pronged narrative, based on the subtle ‘possibilities’ that hid just below the surface. The acting was top-notch, the ‘bad guy’ was creep-tastic, the characters were layered and good use was gotten out of the limited locations and not-huge budget.
I certainly can’t say that ‘The Babadook’ is The Scariest Movie EVER…but it is one sticks with you after the credits roll.
“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook,”
This flick strongly reminded me of another low-budget horror film I saw a little while back called ‘Lovely Molly’ (2011)…(see my review here- thekneejerkreaction.com/2013/07/19/lovely-molly-2011/).