The crazy thing is that "The Babadook" really does not do much differently in terms of horror craft. I cannot say there was much in this film that I have not seen in dozens of other scary stories. You take a naturally creepy concept, such as an evil boogie man figure, isolate your characters, and slowly increase the tension. It's a basic formula, yet one that so many films seem incapable of grasping. "As Above, So Below"* had a naturally terrifying plot: trap your characters in the French catacombs and then force them to trek down into Hell itself. However, it was lazily made, unable to reach even the basics. "The Babdook" achieves that elementary score, and it goes far beyond.
But what makes "The Babadook" advanced is not it's capable terror or that freaky grinning bastard in a top hat. It is a great movie because it uses horror to build up a fantastic and gripping character drama. Too many assure that just because horror is a trashy genre that it cannot have the dramatic weight of other genres. They are wrong, and "The Babadook" does everything any other drama does: it has compelling characters with real flaws and an interpersonal conflict that is tearing them apart. It even features two of the best performances from any kind of movie in 2014. "The Babadook" is a desperately human tragedy, with the fears and loneliness of it's characters heightened by the things that go bump in the night.
I have never been a father, but raising children is a part of my life that I am greatly looking forward to... in the future. (Ladies, you'll just have to wait a bit longer.) But I know that raising children is an exhausting prospect. It isn't just the cliché stand-up comedian complaints about losing your social life and being bogged down by your family's constant demands. It can go very badly. There is nothing more frightening for a parent that to realize your child is badly damaged in a way that you cannot fix with just a kiss to make it all better. What's worse, while you may love your child, there is a point of emotional paralysis where you can come to resent them and their problems. It's a horrifying thought to imagine hating your little boy or girl, the creature you're here to protect on this Earth. But sometimes you just cannot be the person who can lead them through their troubles. What can you do in that kind of situation?
|Home sweet nightmare.|
It begins one night at bedtime, when Amelia is going to read Samuel a nice story. He picks out a red velvet pop-out book from his bookcase, "The Babadook". It's innocent enough. Until you turn the first page, when you realize this thing has been written by Maurice Sendak while on a very nasty acid trip. It is sketched together with black and white, with grinning demonic figures dominating little weak children. Samuel comes to believe that the Babadook, a cheerful Victorian fellow with razor sharp claws ever draped in shadow, has possessed his world and will never let him and his mother go. As time goes by, and Samuel gets worse, Amelia herself starts to believe in this unwanted house guest as well.
There is a very clever and subtle switch on perspectives in "The Babadook". Where Amelia goes from being your sympathetic character trying her hardest to work with a weird kid to Amelia descending into a far more destructive and horrifying madness. The longer this film goes on, the more you start to understand the dynamic between these characters. A horror movie need not only use hellspawn to creep out it's audience, sometimes every day neglect and depression can be just as disturbing.
|Somehow I don't think Babadook plush dolls are going to be the holiday season's big ticket item.|
What's more impressive than the pedigree of filmmaking is the acting. When you have a very small claustrophobic movie, ultimately it's going to be your leads that will make or break your film. That is made all the more daring when one of your key actors is a small child. I am very impressed with little Noah Wiseman, who had to play around in sets and with props that scare me, and I'm about four times his age. He's a brilliant little actor with what I hope is a bright future. Essie Davis, however, is still more impressive, putting together a feast of a performance. Davis is called to play just about every human emotion: fear, longing, depression, before finally going a full Jack Torrence and becoming a wretched villain perhaps more awful than the Babadook itself. She pulls it off.
There is no need for discussion on how scary "The Babadook" is - it's a scary motherfucking movie. However, there will probably be some disappointment in the conclusion. Partially because "The Babadook" avoids ever fully showing its monster, a mistake which has collapsed other films completely**. But also because some audiences might take the ending a bit too literally. I will not go too deeply into spoilers, but there are a lot of subtle details in "The Babadook" which may be missed upon first viewing. For example, Amelia is at one point referenced to have been a failed writer. What genre did she write in? Children's books.
|Who is the Babadook really?|
You know you are not going to have good dreams after watching "The Babadook". You can't get rid of the Babadook.
* One of many movies that came out in 2014 which were far too bland for me to even bother reviewing. I really cannot justify writing a review for every movie I see now if I cannot come up with an original thing to say about them. I made this point before with "As Above, So Below": it doesn't work. And it fails on such simple levels (you don't care about the characters, it can't ramp up the horror properly, nothing in Hell is really all that interesting as it turns out) that why even discuss it? Nobody else is - it has already fallen into the basement of forgotten horror crap along with "The Pyramid" and "Devil's Due".
** "Mama" comes to mind here.