Saturday, November 29, 2014


Book page one
AUSSIE HORROR FINALLY HITS THE STATES;  Good acting and stylish directing lifts this feature above most recent horror flicks...

by Don Stradley

The Babadook is a confrontation between Mike Leigh's vision of family disharmony and 1980s Hollywood horror. It's a smart, capably made movie, and worth all of the notice its received on the independent film festival circuit. The first section involves a beleaguered widowed mother and her obnoxious, troubled son. He's a six year old boy fascinated by magic tricks and monsters from his story books, which wouldn't be bad except he's always crying about something. The second half shows us what happens when an evil menace breaks loose from one of the boy's books and begins stalking the poor tired mother like a less charismatic Freddy Krueger.

The movie borrows scenes and effects from other movies with such freedom that one almost marvels at the audacity of director Jennifer Kent. The house where the mother and son live, for instance, is the sort of place we always see in these movies. It's incredibly oversized, all the better for people to run in fear down hallways, with plenty of stairways to fall down, lots of glass that can be broken, high ceilings so evil beings can float around up there, and a giant basement that can serve as a hiding place or, I guess, a dungeon. These movies never take place in an L-shaped ranch home like the one I grew up in, or an apartment complex. It's always the big, old, drafty house. We also get such established tropes as the kindly old lady next door, the "evil" book that seems to have a mind of its own, and the haunting, shadowy invader of dreams.

The first half of the movie is the most realistic, and the most grating. That's when we meet the boy, Sam, a scruffy little whiner who resembles most of the kids we used to see in horror movies. Except, in a strange twist, he's almost entirely unsympathetic. When he cries, he emits a shrill, unpleasant sound that made me want to jam a pillow over his face. Of course, he's always scared because he spends most of his time reading scary stories. Sam has some problems, though, that aren't of the supernatural bent. His dad, for instance, died driving Sam's pregnant mother Amelia to the hospital to give birth to him. Hence, Sam carries around a lot of guilt, not to mention an endless yearning for a dad. He tries to be heroic and vows to protect his mom, but this only makes him more insufferable. I was half-rooting for the Babadook to eat him.

Where Kent really stacks the deck, though, is against Amelia (nobly played by Essie Davis), for not only is she emotionally drained by her job at a nursing home, but it seems everyone in Amelia's circle is either a snooty bitch or a boring authority figure. Poor Amelia not only misses her late husband, but doesn't even have time to masturbate, for her goofy son is always pouncing on her bed at odd hours, afraid of whatever bogey is lurking around in his room.

The movie happily plunders a treasury of great old horror movie motifs. We have scenes of frightened people looking into closets and under beds, mysterious footsteps and creaky ceilings, and horrid voices on the telephone. Inevitably, the movie turns bloody, as mom is soon possessed by the unrelenting Babadook and begins chasing her wimpy son around their big old house with a knife. The boy is resourceful, and manages to subdue his suddenly homicidal mother, but there more twists to come, or should I say more old movies to borrow from, including The Shining, Poltergeist, and
Nightmare on Elm Street.  

The Babadook has been hailed as a sort of minor classic. Maybe, maybe not. It's better than most of the American horror films of recent memory, and Kent mixes up her styles in an intriguing way, establishing a Kubrikian coldness only to break the mood with gothic flourishes worthy of Edward Gory. It works as a meditation on the frustrations of motherhood, and the pain inherent in loving a child who happens to be an obnoxious little shit; it also works as a sophisticated riff on some timeless horror schemes, namely the bogeyman, and the truly horrific idea that someone you love has been exchanged for someone (or something) else. True, the movie may not break any new ground, but it certainly covers some old ground nicely.

You can catch The Babadook on most VOD streaming services.

No comments:

Post a Comment