Film Review: The Babadook (2014)

Horrortober:

The Babadook, 2014

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear

 

Growing up the horror genre was one of my favourite to watch; by age 11 I’d seen Alien, The Grudge, The Fly and many others as I loved the monsters and the scariness that accompanies them, and as I got older I tried searching for some of these films in the cinema but I soon discovered that horror films were being reduced so simple slasher cash-grabs, with stupid-yet-good-looking characters with no story other than to die. It eventually caused me to fall out of love with the horror genre, as I was fed up of a loud noise being their go-to scare technique and characters which were so bland and a storyline which was so bland that the films ultimately ended up nothing more than ‘fine’. However I’ve heard a lot recently about a 2014 horror film called The Babadook which was getting quite decent reviews, and when I’ve been watching and reviewing terrible horror films like Annabelle on my blog, I wanted to start off with a recent one which has gained widespread acclaim.

The Babadook is an Australian psychological horror film about a mother and child who read a kids’ book about a creature called the Babadook who comes into your home and remains there. The mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), and the son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), are also still suffering from the loss of their husband/father who died in a car crash on the day Samuel was born, and this plays throughout the film, and this plays brilliantly. At the start Amelia and Samuel are quite distant; Amelia doesn’t care about his magic tricks or his weapon making (Samuel is quite a weird kid in that he makes weapons to protect them from monsters, as he’s a firm believer in monsters), and Samuel is quite a trouble-making kid; he gets kicked out of school for taking a weapon in, he pushes his cousin out of a tree-house, breaking her jaw, and Amelia struggles to deal with her suppressed grief and his behaviour.

Shortly after reading the book about the Babadook the strange things start happening, but unlike in films such as Annabelle, this film lacks jump-scares. There is a frighteningly chilling moment where Amelia is looking at the door and this dark shadow creeps in the room and slithers its way into the corner before she covers her face. The lack of a jump scare, mixed with the Babadook’s unusual movement, makes this a genuinely chilling moment. As the scares in the night carry on, Amelia has less and less sleep, making her demeanour angrier, which I loved as it gave her such a depth of character: her suppressed depression, her anger towards her child, her tiredness, her fear of the Babadook, and her performance is truly marvellous as a result. As the film goes on and her mental state becomes worse the line between the Babadook’s influence on her and her tiredness and fear becomes so thin that it’s hard to know where she stands, and her actions become more horrifying, made all the better for not having jump scares.

I also loved the writing in this film, both in character development and dialogue. Everyone brushing Amelia and Samuel off and slowly hating them (mainly because Amelia hasn’t gotten over her husband’s death and because Samuel is a strange kid) gives them a more isolated feel despite being in a civilised location, even the police brush her concerns off so it soon becomes those two versus the Babadook. It also has a brilliant repetitive use of threes with their dialogue; in the book it notes how the Babadook will knoc three times, and say ‘dook, dook, dook’ as it does so, and from there on characters repeat things three times and there are three knocks at the door, and all of these just combine together really effectively. Her hugging her husband in an apparent apparition is a touching moment but when you hear him repeat a line three times the chilling nature of the Babadook’s influence returns, and this is fantastic storytelling.

Overall there isn’t much wrong with The Babadook; sometimes the music can be distracting as it goes really loud (not in an immediate change, but a gradual growing), and Noah’s performance was at times indifferent, but he’s only a young child so I won’t hold that against him too much, for the most part he does a fantastic job at morphing from an annoying child at the start to a sympathetic hero at the end. Some camera angles are also a little distracting, too; one scene sees Amelia in bed hear a scraping sound coming from the door, but it doesn’t show us the door and the camera moves down the bed a little bit, making it appear as if the bed was moving, that happened more than once and it was, however intentionally or accidentally, misleading. Overall, tough, there is very little wrong with this film, which was a truly terrifying and entertaining film, and restored my faith that good horror films are still being made in recent times, and not just an fourth or an eighth instalments in the Insidious  or Saw franchises, respectively.

 

Plot: * * * *

Acting: * * * *

Writing: * * * * *

Presentation: * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ¼

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