Wednesday, December 3, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: THE BABADOOK Is A Powerful and Dark Family Drama That Also Happens To Be A Horror Film

One of the key elements in The Exorcist's effectiveness is that the film takes itself completely seriously. It approaches the material from a dramatic viewpoint first, and then finds the horror within those situations. The same can be said of The Babadook, a film that understands the value of its characters and their story. By doing so, it infuses the horrific aspects of the film ten-fold, instead of most movies that rely on their scares to create drama. However, it doesn't hurt that the horror elements are equally impressive.

In fact, nearly everything about the film is impressive. The acting, the editing, the sound design/music (often the most important part of classic horror. Jaws, Psycho, Halloween etc.), the composition, the colors, the props, the atmosphere, and I'll even go ahead and say the craft services were incredible. The Babadook is getting tons of praise and I can't help but jump on that bandwagon. Where to start with something so good?

How about with the titular monster? Mister Babadook has a simple but creepy design, and the pop-up book that introduces him is even more unsettling than the real thing. What I really love about Mister Babadook is what he represents, and that writer/director Jennifer Kent utilizes this monster in a classic fairy tale way to talk about the darker nature of a person. The Babadook mines most of its horror not from having a spooky monster, but by making the monster a reflection of the monster inside of us all.

At the center of the film is Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother trying to raise her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is scared of monsters and lashes out at school. Their relationship is the entire crux of the film, and it's a complicated and believable one. There's no schmaltz or false sympathy here. This feels like a real parent and child who are having difficulty figuring out how to love each other in the wake of a lingering tragedy. It certainly brings to mind something like We Need to Talk About Kevin, but it's definitely not as cruel as that film.

The Babadook does seem to be the kind of movie that is aware of its lineage though, and instead of doing cheap homages (read: ripoffs) of the films it owes itself to, it fuses them together to create something both original and familiar. The Exorcist, The Shining, Mommie Dearest, Carrie, The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and even deeper cuts like Paperhouse seem to be flowing in the blood of The Babadook. You even get to see the creepiest part of Mario Bava's Black Sabbath in the film! This is the rare horror film that is both for fans and easily accessible to a wide audience.

The score and sound design of The Babadook is praiseworthy on its own. There aren't any jump scares in the film, and that makes the sound much more a character in the film than an easy way to milk a reaction out of an audience.

The Babadook is the kind of horror film I always wish will come along: A-level filmmaking across the board, and a story that realizes it needs to be effective as a story before it can attempt to scare you. This is definitely a landmark in the genre, and I hope we see horror headed towards this kind of direction. If so, we could be in for another renaissance a la the 1970's.

...Also, I want that pop-up book.

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