Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Babadook

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! The Babadook:  silly name, scary results!

The Babadook – 5 out of 5

I never heard of The Babadook, never seen a trailer, and didn’t even know a basic synopsis but my horror nerd girlfriend told me we need to find this film. Why? Well, honestly, for no other reasons to her because it was an acclaimed horror film—shit, she didn’t even know what the hell the film was about either. However, I searched out the film and I’m pretty fucking glad I did.

"See, son?  There is nothing under your bed except that cheese sandwich that has been
there for three months and that I refuse to clean up for you because I am not
your maid."

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother trying her best to raise a son that has an unhealthy obsession with monsters that hide under the bed and in the closet. Amelia lost her husband the day Samuel (Noah Wiseman) was born and since then Amelia has been trying to make it and push down her grief and feelings of anger and resentment she is experiencing from it all—all the while, trying to raise a child that other parents and kids think needs psychiatric help. One night, Samuel asks Amelia to read him a bedtime story called The Babadook. What she reads terrifies both of them as it tells a tale about a horrific creature seeking to come into their home and place harm on them. Amelia tries to rid the home of the book but soon learns that the story is not just a fictional tale but rather a warning. Soon, Amelia starts to experience supernatural forces around her and Samuel and she quickly realizes the Babadook wants in their home and nothing is going to stop it.

If I saw this in my house, I would First) shit my pants and Second) run away and never stop.

Despite going in with absolutely no expectations, The Babadook scared the crap out of me. On paper, the title sounds silly and when you realize the film is, in a way, about a child’s boogeyman coming after a mother and son, the whole thing can appear to be quite silly. Had it been an American horror film, it probably would have been, without a doubt, exactly that. However, since the best horror films come from overseas, this Australian film proved to be exquisitely terrifying and did so without falling back on a gimmick (like being "found footage"), contained a well composed story and relatable characters, and was capable of being psychologically unsettling and never once rested on cheap jump scares.

Jesus, the pop-up book about the Babadook is scarier than a lot of horror films.

The story is nothing complicated and, it is within this stark complicity, that the story really hits a chord with the viewer. Amelia’s tragedy is easy to invest in. Even if you’ve never have lost a partner or shared something that’s even an inkling akin to her lost, you can easily understand the frustrations and hardship she is trying to deal with as a single parent and as a parent to a somewhat trouble child. I found myself quickly becoming invested in what she was going through so when the real horror of the Babadook started to show and you see a woman who is already an emotional wreck and exhausted from the stress of life, I found myself completely emerged in the story. There was a legit reality at work with Amelia and Samuel that isn’t found in many supernatural-based horror flicks you see in the good old U.S. of A. Writer/director Jennifer Kent (who, by the way, made her feature film debut with this one) kept a grounded drama about the small family unit. There was no over-the-top drama queen stuff that you usually see in tween/teen centric horror films. The character of Amelia and her tale felt more realistic than 99% of the stuff I’ve seen churned out year after year here in the States and it made for a horror film that was filled with emotions beyond just fear.

These bugs are Australian...which means they are capable of killing you
in multiple and very violent ways.

Amelia lives in Australia and can survive all the hardships
its environment and animals can throw at her...but
her kid is too much.  Let that sink in.
Aside from having a story that was easy to invest in and, hence, made the scary moments even that more terrifying, the film contains some truly amazing acting from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Davis really got into character and captured the worn down and wounded Amelia absolutely perfectly and Wiseman was terrific as the rambunctious Samuel. It’s rare to find child actors who actually look like they have some talent going on with them and, more often than not, we’re forgiving to the bad child actors of the world because we all understand that they haven’t been to acting classes, probably don’t have any natural abilities, and definitely don’t have a lifetime of work were they honed their skills. However, Wiseman, like Davis’ performance, felt legit and he didn’t look like a kid awkwardly reading his lines but felt like an actual kid—and that’s exactly what you want from him. However, because of the story, the character of Samuel had to be a little more than a little boy that is worried that there are monsters hiding within his home. Samuel had to be a character who truly believed that the Babadook was coming, someone who truly believed he had to protect his mother, and had to be a child that was terrified for his life when his mother became inhabited by the evil spirit. While I’m not trying to downplay Essie Davis’ immaculate performance, I was really blown away with the natural acting talent that was seen in Noah Wiseman.

Here's hoping Wiseman has a long career.

The Babadook does the type of horror that I like so much—deep, disturbing psychological terror. This movie was all about atmosphere, building suspense and tension, sending chills up your spine and doing its best to make sure you can’t sleep for several nights after watching it. What I loved most about The Babadook and why it terrified me so much was the fact this film never takes the easy route and settles for a collection of cheap, unsatisfying jump scares. American horror films (not to continue to hate on my country of residence) overuse this trope to the point they are now cliché and are easily telegraphed many minutes before they actual hit. While jump scares may work for the easily frightened, having even the smallest of goose bumps or making me even slightly uncomfortable in a horror film takes more than just having a cat jump out of a closet. I need more to truly scare me and The Babadook gave me what I want in horror films. The way director Jennifer Kent (by the way, can we import her to the States so she can improve the genre here?) uses shadows and sound is unbelievably terrifying.  During a single scene where Amelia sees the Babadook enter her son’s bedroom, she covers her head like a frightened child and hears the creature say its name and it was more horrifying than most scary movies I’ve seen here in America and even just typing it has given me chills. The voice alone of the Babadook, it’s groaning, creaking sound of a voice it has, is more terrifying than every single jump scare I’ve ever sat through. Additionally, like the story, the simplicity to the creature that is the Babadook proves that horror doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t need some ridiculous excuse to film everything in order just to have some weak camera gags. All you need are characters you feel for and something as simple, and as horrifying, as this…

Looking at this, I either pissed myself or someone else's piss has filled my pants.

Don't cry...sure, your husband is dead, your son is a
handful and you have an evil spirit looking to
possess you but...actually, I have no idea how to
end that sentence.
Finally, one of the things that struck me with The Babadook was the symbolism the film offered. Back in the glory days of horror (70s and early 80s), horror films offered up lessons of morality by showing people being murdered and tormented horribly because they were having pre-marital sex, doing drugs, or disturbing the resting places of the deceased. Since then, horror films have both moved away from this and just shown random terror or have utilized this so forcefully that the very trope has become a joke and the object of parody. However, The Babadook (and tons of other foreign horror flicks) adds in a new level by making the film a morality tale with a lesson to learn that goes beyond the horror tales of old. Without going into the dreaded spoilers territory, The Babadook teaches about grief management and dealing with loss. While such emotions are not entirely foreign to the world of horror, the way Kent was able to make the Babadook a symbol of these things floored me from the moment the creature inserted itself into the story and all the way until the very end. The way it served as a metaphor for Amelia to understand that the pain of losing her husband will never truly disappear but one has to learn how to grieve and, eventually, move on so the pain can no longer control them made for a film that was not only terrifying but remarkably deep as well. It was truly a fantastically written and put together horror movie that shows it’s possible to have some depth to your scares.

Scares like this.

The Babadook was, without a doubt, truly terrifying for me. However, alongside those scares, the film contained an emotional story, contained deep symbolism beyond the usual horror film tropes, and had some truly impressive acting from the two main stars.

I looked just like this after watching The Babadook.

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