Movie Review: The Babadook

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Director: Jennifer Kent

Writer: Jennifer Kent

Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

Verdict: Nearly a masterpeice

I don’t get people who like horror film but don’t like this movie. I understand taste is subjective, but I’m sorry they’re wrong, and I’m going to explain why. 

The Babadook follows Amelia, as portrayed quite stunningly by Essie Davies, (The Matrix Revolutions), in her best performance and maybe one of the best horror movie performances ever. She is alternated chilling, sad, terrified herself, vitriolic, and endlessly empathetic, she portrays essentially two sides of a coin. The generally accepted interpretation of The Babadook is that the Babadook itself is physical manifestation of mental illness, and with that in mind Davis perfectly portrays both the outward, incredibly realistic presentation you put on when dealing with mental illness, and a more expressionistic sort of vision of both rage and misery in it’s more terrifying, surreal sequences. Amelia is a single mother struggling to cope with a hyperactive, probably spectrum, scratch that definitely spectrum, young child, played by Noah Wiseman, also spectacularly, he’s game for the film and gives 110% is a really really good child performance. 

Maybe this film resonated particularly with me as someone who’s struggled with things like Asperger’s syndrome, anxiety disorder, and depression, for a long time now, the former all my life. That being said there’s a lot to like purely on a technical basis in this film. This film isn’t, as Nigel Floyd so succinctly coined, “cattle-prod cinema”, it’s not jump-scares. It’s tension, like in The Exorcist, generated through getting to know your characters and their deeply soulful, emotional struggles, and then that level of misery is cranked up to something horrific and terrifying. This is aided by, as I said stunning performances, I can’t quite emphasise enough how wonderful Davies’ performance is. The film is captured in this colour palate that consists of whites and blacks and very dark blues, it might as well be black and white, and in fact the original short this was based on was, it’s really chilly and really captures the emotional bleakness of the film.The only thing that doesn’t fit into this is the book itself that the Babadook is released from, it’s a wonderful pop-up book, really wel made and it’s this crimson blood red that really stands out, it utilises it’s colour palate in the same way as this year’s The Witch, (review here). The Babadook himself is hardly shown but seems like a wonderful live action manifestation of the creature from the book, he moves in this insect like, stop start fashion realised through Burtonesque stop motion and it’s really unnerving. There’s a sort of direct reference to Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street, and like Kruger, the Babadook seems like a villain from a story to haunt children’s dreams, which is great because in the film he is, he’s an extension of Grimm’s fairy tales. He comes from a child’s fear of the dark.

Debut director Kent cites among her influences people like Cronenberg, (The FlyEastern PromisesA History of Violence), and Lynch, (Mulholland DriveBlue VelvetEraserhead). You can see it in the wonderful practical effects and the extraordinary soundscape, it has the Eraserhead thing where the sound of the world itself creeps you out. 

The score is also fantastic, done by Jed Kurzel, (MacbethSlow West), and I’m incredibly hyped for his work on Assassin’s Creed, which looks fantastic. It’s minimalist and mournful and just great.

Now the film isn’t perfect, in the end it lacks the real scares to elevate it to something extraordinary, and the last act is slightly underwhelming, turning to paranormal activity for a bit and descending into just shouting at the ghost, but I think the film is great. The allegory works really well, I actually nearly cried which for a horror film is really impressive. As someone who’s struggled with these issues and loves horror films, this is a future classic of the genre, it’s touching and sad and important. Well worth your time. In an age when horror cinema has descended to, in the words of Joss Whedon, (Avengers Assemble, Toy StoryThe Cabin in the Woods), “a series of sadistic comeuppances”, and jumpscares, it is important that this film exists for the genre, I genuinely think the people who don’t like this film are not horror fans or at least not true horror fans, because they’re used to jump scares and gore and a film that lacks it is somehow underwhelming when really it’s perfect. Fuck’s sake. 

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