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).
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.