Sunday, November 30, 2014

Review: The Babadook

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
The past two weeks have seen the release of two of the year's very best horror movies and both of them were made by women. Last week's release was Ana Lily Amirpour's moody black and white Iranian vampire western "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" and this week's selection is Australian Jennifer Kent's debut "The Babadook."

Kent's picture is one of the most thematically rich and outright scary horror movies of recent memory. I wouldn't dare give away its secrets, but suffice it to say it takes the type of story you'd typically find in a horror film and uses it to express something about the fragility of the human condition. And, yeah, it's pretty damn frightening in the process.

At the film's beginning, single mother Amelia (Essie Davis in one of the year's best breakout performances) is struggling to raise her rambunctious son Robbie (Daniel Henshall), who may at first appear as a nightmare child due to his wild behavior, constant screaming and crying and troubles at school, that is, until his mother takes a turn for the worse more than halfway through the movie.

Seven years prior to the film's beginning, Amelia lost her husband in a car accident as he was driving her to the hospital to give birth. She's never quite gotten over it and despite her love for him, Robbie reminds her of her dead husband. His birthday falls on the date of her husband's death, so they hardly ever celebrate it on the actual day.

One day, Amelia finds a children's book titled "Mister Babadook" that she reads to Robbie at night, but halfway through it, she finds it too macabre and tries to close it, despite Robbie's insistence on continuing. The book tells the story of the titular fiend, whom, once you have let him into your home cannot be gotten rid of.

Robbie begins to see the Babadook (which is named after the sound of his knocks on the door, "ba ba dook dook!") and Amelia becomes annoyed, thinking this is more of the child's erratic behavior. And then, she begins to see it as well. Mister Babadook, created through stop motion animation, is a tall figure with a hat, coat, creepy grin and long, sharp fingernails. He floats through the house and scuttles across the ceiling like a large insect.

I won't explain how or why he has come about, but when you figure out exactly who Mister Babadook is, you'll likely agree that it's a pretty bold move for a horror movie. Most films in the genre are merely meant to scare - or, in lesser case scenarios, gross out - viewers with little else in the way of purpose.

But "The Babadook" is a horror movie in the grand tradition of those that attempt a little something more, one which uses the horrors of actual human concerns to stand in for the evil lurking under the bed. It's a pretty creepy picture and one that has more going under its surface than your typical example of the genre.

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