Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Babadook

2014  ****1/2

In the tradition of hopping on bandwagons that have long since toodled past, I offer you this year's It Movie of Horrorthon 2015... for the first, oh, half of October?  Before it was eclipsed by We Are Still Here and a few other standouts, I mean.  

This movie rang true for me because in certain offhand ways Samuel's behavior echoes behavior I've seen in my own son, and his mom Amelia's reactions were instantly believable on some deep, complicated levels.  Just in terms of the acting, this is an astounding film.  I'm specifically thinking of a moment when we see her face as she's driving, and Sam's in the back seat trying to get her attention, and she's not answering right away because she just needs to zone out for a moment, and he WILL NOT STOP until she says something.  I'm sure any parent or anyone who's been in a car with a kid can relate to what I'm talking about.  (The thing is, when you're a kid, why would you stop?  Kids don't take hints, they just keep asking for what they want, especially if the response is silence.)

Things get tense for this little family when Samuel is booted out of school for bringing in a dart gun, the one he's going to use on the monster he can't stop talking about.  And into this desperate, exhausted atmosphere comes the awful Babadook.

(An aside here as I mention that I've always thought this word should be ba-Da-Book, just in terms of my own sense of lingual rhythm and the lingering echo of the words "Big badda boom" from The Fifth Element.  Then I realized this movie was Australian and my misinformed bias went away immediately.  Because "babadook" is completely acceptable from the land that gave us the wombat, the wobbegong and the didgeridoo.)

A supernatural force that gains its foothold in our world through an evil pop-up book is just so damn good I can't figure out why it hasn't happened already, and the first scene in which it appears plays out beautifully.  There's something so raw and basic in Sam's anxious query "What happens?  Does he hurt the boy?"  (because for a kid, the fate of a boy in a picture book is every bit as important as one's own.)  The situation is not brought under control at all, and another of my favorite scenes happens as Amelia uselessly reads a different book, projecting her voice in a vain attempt to penetrate Sam's loud, inconsolable sobs.

The mounting threat of the Babadook is deftly tied together with Amelia's unraveling mental state.  She's been a widow since the night of Sam's birth and she is at a crisis point in dealing with the body slam life has hit her with, the combination of six years of grief and crippling fatigue.  Driving this to a fever pitch is the top-hatted, raggedy clawed shadow man that flits around in the dark corners of her room at night, being generally horrible.  The idea of the Babadook as a manifestation of Amelia's dire state is good as both theme and plot device, and as things proceed she comes to fear asking for help lest other people see how crazy she seems.

When I hear a parent express guilt that they snapped at their kid, I like to say that families are organizations connected and fueled by emotions, and that means they can't always promise a smooth ride.  The Babadook does an exquisite job of exploring both the dark and light sides of that ride, with believable, likeable characters and a admirably creepy monster.  I dug the ending, too.


DKC said...

Still haven't seen this. Excellent review, Octo! Even though I'm more interested in watching Elf right now, your review does make me want to put this back on my list.

7ofNine said...

FANTASTIC review. I've been chicken-sh^^ing away from this one because it seems so intense, and after reading your review, am slightly closer to watching it, now. Thank you?

Request: On a totally different note, I have not yet seen the "horror shark movies" (is it a thing?) reviewed this season, and wondered if it would be an acceptable category. In the hopes that the answer would be "Oh, yeah! what an awesome idea!," I watched 3 such shark movies: Sharknado, Sharknado 2: The Second One, and 3-Headed Shark. (I don't like sharks, and they really scare me.) :)

[eagerly awaiting response]

Abduscias said...

Great review! Said the Big Badda Boom out load, as I read that!

Catfreeek said...

Excellent review!

7ofNine the shark movies are totally Horrorthon material. I reviewed sharknado last year I believe.

JPX said...

what a terrific review! I'm so glad you finally checked this out! I tried to purchase the limited edition pop-up book made for this movie but it was hand-made and the price was outrageous.

7/9, I hate the idea of sharks as well but you can handle the movies! Also, when Goodnight, Mommy comes out on DVD I want you to watch it (you're allowed to drink during it if it helps!)

AC said...

Great review, agree the acting was exceptional for a horror movie. Still not sure what to make of the ending!