Directed and Written by Jennifer Kent
Aaaaaand finally, please put your hands together to give a big welcome to yet another Australian, high quality movie from this year… Not screened since May, it is: The Babadook!!
First and foremost I shall get the bad news out-of-the-way. This is not as scary as many critics seem to raving about. It most certainly has various qualities that make it an extraordinary film, especially considering the budget, the small amount of actors and the fact it is a debut feature. But scary, this is not.
Based on a 40 minute short named ‘Monster‘ which garnered praise at numerous film festivals, Kent as turned her short into her first debut feature, and a striking, confronting one at that. This movie won’t terrify you, but what it will do is creep you out, make your skin crawl, and most pertinent – it will tense you up for a majority of its running time. It gets might close! This isn’t The Exorcist; it won’t make you recoil in horror, but it is still a cracking movie in the vein of early Polanski: Female protagonist whose world begins to work against her as she spirals into paranoia and/or insanity. Sound familiar? The surreal feel of the entire movie evokes memories of both Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion, while the extremely muted colour palette gives this film a classical horror film look, further added to by the constant snippets of black and white television during scenes.
This movie really uses that age-old standard laid down by Sir Hitchcock: For the most part, we know there is a bomb under the table, but, rarely do we see it. We don’t know how big the explosion will be, but we know it is there. Amelia (Essie Davis) is unconvinced, and goes about her mundane routine of a life until her son’s behaviour begins to become a lot more than a simple fear of a monster lurking in his bedroom, and begins interfering with everyday life. Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is convinced that monsters are stalking him, forcing his mother to check under beds and wardrobes; with the two often sharing her bed. His fear also leads him to construct homemade weapons with amusingly varied results. Noah Wiseman is fantastic as Samuel, at one point screaming and convulsing in a truly tense scene, while at other times nonchalantly saying, almost in a sing-song voice, ‘my dad was killed in a car accident when driving my mum to have ME!!!’ which I couldn’t help but laugh at. His behaviour becomes more of a problem as the film moves on, creating a fantastic family drama within this alleged horror story.
His mother is on the brink. She hates, or at the very least is entirely uniterested in her job, she seems to have only two half friends in her neighbour and a co-worker, while her sister and her friends are all dismissive of Amelia’s son and how her life is travelling, which exposed in another hilarious scene. This is where Amelia’s temper begins to fray, and her disdain for her own son starts to bubble up. It is an especially confronting issue that I don’t recall having seen in another film, yet it is handled with ease and really makes the movie what it is.
Essie Davis, one of Australia’s best, playing Amelia, is incredible in her role, as she morphs from a single mum trying to hold it together, to a frustrated mother getting angry at her misbehaving son, to something else all together entirely, as strange occurences and the insistence of her son convince her of the possibility that some sort of creature could be lurking around their house. Her acting in the final act surpasses that of Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby; it is intense, dramatic, and if anything, the scariest part of the whole film! Her paranoia and pure hatred seep from the screen, making for a relentless barrage of tense scenes as the movie marches on to the end.
It is very rare for a movie to scare me (the only two examples being The Exorcist and The Shining) and this movie was certainly not in the league of those true classics of horror. I will admit to a couple of scenes giving me the chills, but this was more due to the exceptional sound and camera work, as well as the aforementioned colour pallete and especially the use of lighting and shadows.
There were two scenes that did make my spine tingle, taking me back to when I first saw the twins in The Shining, but both of these scenes had nothing to do with the Babadook at all. In fact, for the entirety of the film, I found myself thinking that this would stand up as a solid family psychological-thriller/drama without the Babadook.
One thing the Babadook itself did do though was help create and maintain an insane amount of tension. I lost count of the times I was suddenly leaning forward, my body tensed up. If the movie didn’t pull off that unique and difficult mother/son dynamic as perfectly as it did, this movie really could have fallen flat on its face. Certainly not a terrifying movie then, but in saying that, this flick is soaked in atmosphere and will creep you about. If that is horror to you – this is your perfect movie. It is certainly eons above cinematic turds like ‘Insidious’ and all the supernatural crap that seems to be all the rage at the moment.
4/5 – This is one hell of a movie, and credit must be given to Noah Wiseman, whose performance outdoes that of the young Danny Lloyd in The Shining. Let’s hope Noah thought continues to act, he certainly has a knack for it! Equal praise must go to Essie Davis, her character was the scariest thing about this movie. Overall though, this movie excels as a psychological thriller/drama more than a horror movie.
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