May 3, 2015

The Babadook

Jennifer Kent, 2014
Australian-horror film / Sundance darling The Babadook got the marketing hype-treatment when it first landed in theaters on it's wide-release. Commercials aired showing audiences in night vision screaming, and holding their hands over their eyes. As time went on you would hear people saying things like "it's the scariest movie I've ever seen. Scarier than [insert popular scary movie here]". The problem is that scary is subjective. One element that may scare one person may seem completely silly to the next person.

The first act of The Babadook is mother Amelia (Essie Davis) attempting to control her erratic child Samuel (Noah Wiseman). He gets suspended from school for bringing in a home-made weapon, not the first time. He screams in the car at the top of his lungs. Amelia's sister even wants to keep her distance from the two of them because Samuel is so unpredictable. You actually start to really resent the Samuel character. And you feel total sympathy for Amelia, visibly exhausted from trying to get through her day to day life with the little boy. Oh yeah, and Samuel's father? He died tragically. So Amelia has had her fair share of bad luck.

When Amelia tries to calm Sam to bed one night with a pop-up book The Babadook, things go terribly wrong when the content of the book is basically just threats of a scary guy coming into your room and eating your insides. There are even little tabs that Amelia pulls where knives pop out and blood shoots from the little people's heads. Not exactly soothing bedtime material.

The first half hour to forty minutes of the Babadook are actually pretty scary. Kent skillfully builds things up. When the ghost or monster, or whatever you actually want to call him shows up, it's one of those edge-of-your-seat moments. But then the film really takes a turn. It ultimately morphs into a possession piece instead of a haunted house or haunted book piece that it started out on. This isn't all that bad, but it just gets a bit indulgent. The whole sleep deprivation, withdrawal from social circles mental breakdown period feels long.

To the films credit, it does cleverly shift your opinion of the characters from good to evil and vice versa. But it just doesn't live up to the hype. There is a lesson to be learned, probably already learned by most people who are hard to please when it comes to the horror genre. If there is a huge marketing campaign where you are hearing things like it's the scariest movie I've ever seen, most likely it won't be. The best parts of the movie are when the creators are doing less with more. The unfortunate thing is that's only in the first third of the film.

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