Film Review – The Babadook (2014)

the babadook poster

The Babadook was certainly well received upon release, but is it deserving?

The Babadook

Directed by Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell

Review by Jordan

Applauded for its believability and chilling premise and execution, The Babadook is indeed a startling masterpiece; a masterpiece on the importance of strict parenting on wayward children left to the whims of their overactive imaginations, and a masterwork in reverse-female empowerment.

It isn’t rare for women to be drawn helpless, powerless and vacuous in horror movies, nor is it an act that is scolded, as in these movies the horror is often fantastical and so are its victims. First and fore mostly though his debut from director Jennifer Kent is unmistakably an overwrought tale of personal family tragedy and suburban judgement, so common in Australian cinema it has become cliché, which means that the actions, personality and unravelling of single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) appear more distressing than any monster in the closet. Not distressing because it is believable, but rather because it is not… our protagonist is made to be weak, feeding off her son’s fear and lost in her isolation, unable to raise a son or function as mother, worker or citizen though her intentions are fine, because she longs for a husband lost for 7 years.

There is no respite to this longing, and surprisingly, given this obvious overtone, no real development. The Babadook is spawned from fear and feeds off it, eventually wreaking violent havoc on Amelia’s troubled son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and the family dog. That this shadow dweller to an extent makes Amelia a better, more assertive parent is indeed a surprising development, though that doesn’t last long and soon enough she’s brandishing a knife with a desire to kill (a notion pioneered by film scholars after the release of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is the psychological drive behind the “you’re so cute, I could just eat you up” brand of affection).

the babadook

Probably not the best choice at bedtime for a mentally unstable boy…

On a positive note, though The Babadook is more drama than horror, some of the scenes in which the titular monster makes an appearance are genuinely scary, crafted through use of silence rather than loud orchestral stabs and making great use of the dark crevices of a large, creaky house. These moments are chilling and imaginative, delivering visual and audio effects of the highest calibre, making it a shame that Kent decided to focus more on the terror inside, rather than the terror outside.

Another stylistic decision that works against the authenticity of The Babadook is the reliance on classic black and white movies and bizarre (by today’s standards) children’s cartoons that make up the late night TV programming. Amelia and Samuel each take turns being glued to the screen in their insomniac states, witnessing what’s televised morph into nightmarish, circus orientated imagery, but being an Australian who’s watched a lot of television I can confidently declare that there’s more likely to be reruns of Neighbours airing at that time than the Universal Studios Phantom of the Opera or Frankenstein. This directorial decision seems a cheap way to boost the outward design of a movie, by utilising the icons of others.

Glowing reviews indicate that this South Australian production will have a long shelf-life, as it apparently delves into the psychosis of a woman dealing with grief and the extreme guilt and blame a child can feel for events out of their control, but these are not original concepts, and they’re certainly not delivered with subtlety. Seeing the literary ghoul emerge from the pages of an old handcrafted book and into the blackness that exists in the cracks in the wall and behind the closet is indeed scary, and the performance of Essie Davis in particular is fine despite the flaws in her character, but the faults well outweigh the high notes in an experience that promised so much yet delivered your typical Australian coarse language and broken family ties.

Also, I’m getting sick of seeing dogs killed in movies to represent a fractured human mind. Grow up, screenwriters.

2.5 homemade weapons out of 5

21 responses to “Film Review – The Babadook (2014)

  1. Hey Jordan! I was looking forward to your review on this one! I haven’t seen it yet and somehow I had got the impression that it is really creepy and scary, but I realize now it is more of a drama movie. :\ That’s a bit disappointing. Oh, and that part with the dog again…very original..

    • Hey Maria!
      Well you could very well like it, most people have! But you do have to get past one annoying kid, ha.
      I watched John Wick the night before, and seeing 2 dogs killed in 2 nights wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for.

  2. Hmm. Most negative review I’ve seen!! Well, I really liked this one a lot. I just thought it was soooo much better than the majority of horror films we get these days. Sorry you didn’t like it more, though. Nice review. 🙂

    • Great review but I totally agree with Mutant. I loved this film. As a horror fan I found it refreshing to be treated to a story with a little more depth than so much Hollywood dross.

      • Ah I’m very glad you both liked it! My major gripe was the lack of development and empowerment Amelia showed, especially at the end when she’s still in servitude to her fear. There’s no doubting that there were some truly creepy scenes though.

  3. Hi Jordan – really looking forward to this one, but I can understand your reservations. A friend of mine has seen it and said similar things about the main character. I guess it’s really difficult for writers to come up with totally credible characters in “horror” movies these days. Still, thanks for the heads up!

    • Hey mate. That’s absolutely right, and that’s why I was so disappointed, because strong characters were cited as one of the successes here and I found it lacking severely in that criteria. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

  4. Looks really good, a deeply unsettling thriller, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to get over how silly the name ‘Babadook’ is. Serious mentions of it in the film would probably be lost on me!

    • Ha I found it creepy to be honest! The way the name is used is nice and eerie. Could very well be uttered in the same breath as Freddy and Jason one day… Though I doubt it.

  5. Been looking forward to this movie, and mind that I don’t really care for a lot of horror movies. The concept, at first, reminded me of an older film called Paperhouse, where something scary seems to be coming out of a child’s imagination and the mother character is at a loss of what exactly to do. Not exactly that, is it?
    Heard a lot of good things about this movie so far, until yours. Nice to have a little balance. Thank you.

    • Hm, very similar to that actually! IT then takes a bit of a different turn though when the horror manifests itself.
      It seems that a lot of people are saying its “good for a horror movie,” which I can’t help but think is a slap in the face to an ageless genre that has produced some of the most important films of all time.

  6. Really interesting review and has reinforced my waiting to rent it rather than rushing to the cinema!

    A lot of the reviews have said it is fantastic, but I became suspicious when it was more of a horror drama than a horror film.

    Dead dogs does seem to be a lazy tactic in cinema. Another reason for me to wait! Thank you for the advance warning!

  7. Nice post, I loved this movie, really took me by surprise. The Babadook itself is brilliantly designed and genuinely creeped me out, loved the acting (even the annoying kid did what he was supposed) and how it respected the audience. We’re never sure what the babadook is or how real it is – is it depression, her hatred of her son, her son’s fear of her losing him? and I like how it doesn’t explain itself or come down on anyside. It exists and it doesn’t at the same time, reminded me of how the ghosts work in The Shining. I wish more horror movies were like this and not say Annabelle.

  8. I was so creeped out by this film (watching it at home) that I slept with the lights on. I just thought it was terrific. The bit about the dog did bother me a lot and wasn’t necessary. That was the one down side for me. And in two months time, it’s the second time that this has happened to a pet. That’s two times too many. But that said, I really liked the film. I thought the acting was especially good.

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  10. Babadook is better than most horror films these days so I don’t think its underrated. It’s hard to be original these days, so movies that can pull off new things out of familiar elements always receive kudos from me.

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