Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)

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Now that I'm out of Ti West movies, I'm progressing on to other, non-West films that Zack (found on twitter here) lent me. I was reticent to watch this movie when it came out because, much like with The Bye Bye Man, I thought the title was stupid and therefore the movie would be stupid. Turns out it's actually great. Maybe I should go watch The Bye Bye Man now, fuck, I don't know.

The movie is about a frazzled widow (Essie Davis) trying to raise her weird kid (Noah Wiseman) and generally having a hard time with her life. It gets a whole lot harder when she reads a kid's book called Mister Babadook that releases some kind of horrible demon thing into her life.

Or does it? Up until the last chunk of the movie I wasn't totally sure whether there actually was a Babadook, or if the main character was just hugely sleep deprived and finally asserting herself with her weird, misbehaving, demanding kid. It works as both a horror movie about a supernatural entity, and a drama about the non-supernatural horror of being a single mother, which says a lot about how solid the story is.

The relationship between the mom and the kid is also really interesting and probably realistic, I don't know. It's worth noting that I am a person who hates children so I probably got something entirely different out of this than a regular person. Both the mom and kid seem to have some pretty serious issues - the mom's suffering from chronic depression and probably PTSD from witnessing the sudden death of her husband and the son is just really poorly behaved - but they're both weirdly likable. They seem like actual people and the actions that they take never seem forced or out of character.

For example, the movie sort of falls into the "children are fucking freaky" subgenre, but it doesn't go out of the way to make it so. The little boy doesn't speak backwards, or act way too mature for his age, or see dead people, he just acts like a kid would act which is alarming enough because children actually are fucking freaky.

That makes the mother's reactions to him throughout the movie, and her eventual realization that she legit loves him, more potent. She's not just dealing with weird monsters and supernatural shit, she's chronically exhausted from dealing with the regular day-to-day shit, the weird monsters and supernatural shit are what push her over the edge.

The horror of the movie is thus really tangible. It doesn't come from jump scares or gratuitous violence, it comes from real, accessible, believable people being put into an extreme situation. It's scary in the way that The Exorcist is scary. Sure, we all remember the power puking and the head spinning and the bloody vagina, but what really freaked me out about The Exorcist was not the body horror stuff, it was the idea that your life can be torn apart by forces you cannot comprehend, control, or stop.

Also, it's creepy as fuck.

The use of the monster is minimal, instead we get to be scared by peoples reactions to the monster, and anticipation about seeing the monster. And when it is on screen, it's pretty fucking horrifying. You never get a full blown look at it, but it's very reminiscent of Nosferatu, which the filmmakers even point out by showing us clips from Nosferatu. Again, this adds to the idea that the woman might actually be just losing her shit. She watches Nosferatu on TV, she visualizes a monster that looks like Count Orlock, why not.

Lookit them fingers
The movie never feels gratuitous at any point. There isn't a whole lot of violence and there's very little blood - there's one scene where the mom vomits a whole shit load of blood but it's done as tastefully as I've ever seen blood vomited which... I mean, that's impressive, right?

The two lead actors are really good - a child actor can fucking make or break a film, and Noah Wiseman is 100% convincing as a six year old kid. His character is both well acted and well written so he never feels cloying or unlike a child. Essie Davis is fucking great - she's not as good in the second half of the movie when she starts Jack Torrence-ing all over the place, but she more than makes up for it in the first half.

The movie looks beautiful, and, unlike a lot of movies with really pretty cinematography and no substance, it's really visually interesting. It's definitely very arty, but not in an obnoxious way. By that I mean, the artfulness of the photography and editing doesn't detract from the functionality of the film as entertainment. But there was stuff for my eyes to do while my brain was processing what was happening. Also, there's all kinds of visual cues to tell you what's happening, like the change in the colour palette of the mother's wardrobe - shit like that just makes it interesting to watch.

I don't say this often because it's something that you don't notice unless it's really bad or really good, but the music and sound editing was really good. I don't actually know how to articulate how good it was, so I'm just going to leave you with that.

I haven't even started to unpack the themes and symbolism of the movie yet, and I'm not going to because you could (and people probably already have) write an essay about what the fuck is going on in this movie. You can make an argument that the Babadook itself represents whatever you want it to, the most obvious things being the woman's grief over her husband's death, her love for her son, and LGBTQ+ issues (I took some time to try to find out why exactly the Babadook has been lauded as an LGBTQ+ icon, some very good point were made). You can actually make any movie be about anything you want it to be, who gives a shit, but this movie in particular really lends itself to interpretation.

Because the Babadook is this unstoppable thing that never goes away, and changes the main character's lives rather dramatically, and, spoiler ahead, ends up semi-peacefully cohabiting with the family instead of being destroyed, it is very easy to put ones own struggles in place of the monster (for example, my struggle is depression, the Babadook could totally represent depression). And that's okay. I'm not a philosopher but I am here to tell you that you can imagine any movie meaning anything as long as it doesn't hurt anybody.

Hell, if all you want it to represent is a scary ass fucking monster from a kid's book that like comes to life and possesses people and makes them kill their kids, that's totally okay too. This movie works as a monster movie too.

All in all, this really is an excellent piece of filmmaking and it blows my fucking mind that it was Jennifer Kent's feature debut. Good for her, my god.

- Looks good (+1)
- Australian accents (+1)
- Good acting (+1)
- Dog is adorable (+1)
- Realistic female masturbation (+1)
- Sound design (+1)
- Good drama (+1)
- Tasteful (+1)
Total: +8

- Dog Slaughter (-5)
Total: -5
Final Score: +3

Written and Directed by: Jennifer Kent, based on her short film "Monster".  Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Hershall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Tim Purcell, Hachi.


  1. Wait...doesn't the dog escape to the nice old lady next door? I totally agree with you on this one. It is what horror can do, and almost never does. For me, it really is a meditation on depression, from the muted, muddy pallete to the chilly reactions of the mother to her son. And in the end, depression never really goes away. It just lives in your ment add l basement. On the good days, you feed it worms and it tosses you around a bit.

    1. No, the woman kills the dog :(

      I'm pretty sure depression is supposed to be one of the main subtexts of the movie but I might just be thinking that because I'm depressed.

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