Movie Review: The Babadook – in collaboration with the blogger formerly known as James


Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller

Director: Jennifer Kent

Running Time: 93 Minutes

I didn’t care enough about this movie to watch it. Then the reviews started rolling in, and though I didn’t read many reviews, it was clear that this was a well-liked horror film. I sat up and paid partial attention. It garnered decent IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings and was even referred to as “revolutionary to the horror genre” in a brief review I did read. Even so, I just could not be asked to watch it. The blogger formerly known as James (now the Sneaky Squirrel) watched it and we got to talking. After much deliberation and a little convincing, I agreed to watch the film and give him a second opinion. He told me nothing of the plot as he wanted an untainted opinion. What follows below is our joint review.

The Plot

Amelia is a drab, rundown, tired single-mom who works at an old age facility. The film starts off quite normally, showing us her day to day struggles and the difficulties of single parentdom. We also meet her overactive, rather annoying, seemingly spoilt son. It is fast apparent that Sam has anxiety issues surrounding monsters that go bump in the night. This in turn hampers Amelia’s sleep. It is a depressing, monotonous existence. We then learn that Amelia lost her husband in a brutal car accident when she was in labour with her son. She is slowly alienated from her friends as no-one wants to be around her and Sam, largely due to his unruly behavior but also because of her depressing demeanour.

The movie only really picks up when Amelia reads Sam a bedtime story (very much a part of their evening routine) and is presented with a new book: Mister Babadook. The bedtime story quickly devolves into a horror putting Sam into a tailspin resulting in his refusal to sleep. It is at this juncture that strange things start to happen and the audience is meant to sit up and pay attention. It was also at this point that I completely lost interest.

As the sleep deprivation and anxiety wears her down, the creepy is ratcheted up. She starts to see and hear things around the house (a hole in the wall filled with cockroaches) and even in the car (the Babadook speaking). Initially, she second guessing herself and denies that anything is happening; until the book reappears and shows violent images of her future deeds. She destroys it but soon it is back on her doorstep, having been pieced together.

Following a complete decline in Sam’s behaviour, primarily driven by his belief that the Babadook is real, Amelia is forced to take him out of school and all but begs for something to help both her and him sleep. As Sam becomes more and more manageable Amelia begins to show signs of complete psychological breakdown. She becomes increasingly erratic and her behaviour towards her son more abusive.

Performances & Special Effects

This was a small cast and I can honestly say that I either know far too little or nothing at all of their previous performances to make a fair decision here. Despite the tedium and dragging nature of the narrative, I think that Essie Davis gave a stunning performance. She embodied everything that could be wrong in a parent. She was detached, uninvolved and, at times, truly unfeeling. She was able to convey an abstract concept, to those who have never experienced it, as both a visceral and visual representation of the physical and psychological effects of a mind slipping into grief, depression and emotional destitution.

Equally impressive was Noah Wiseman‘s performance as Amelia’s brat of a child. This kid irritated the living shit out of me but at some point, around the middle of the movie, there was a switch. Sam was suddenly extremely self-sufficient and level headed. My feeling is that his earlier behaviour was exaggerated to depict the way Amelia’s strung out psyche perceived her son but in fact, he was just like any other kid in a stressful situation with no support from his parent.

The Babadook itself was not central here, as a monster. It reminded me a lot of shadow men, which are said to appear only in one’s periphery. It is often hinted at and just a glimpse of it is seen. The Babadook is first shown in the aforementioned book, but it doesn’t explain what it is or what motivates it to torment people. It seems to want something but I couldn’t figure out what. Did it want her, her kid, both of them, her tooth? The few times that you see the creature, it is very well presented and is in keeping with the pop-up book style of the story book Amelia destroys. Other than that, the special effects were rather run of the mill to me. I will say that Davis has an impressive pair of lungs and gave good scream but with a $2 million budget, I expected much more.

The Review

Despite the hype and the reviews, I was not impressed with this movie. Once it finished, I tried to really understand what was bothering me about it. Ultimately, the horror aspect didn’t sit right. I’m not saying it should have been removed but I do think that there could have been better execution. The plot was not imaginative enough and the development was ridiculously obvious. I don’t want to be “that guy” and spoil the movie for those of you who want to watch it and form your own opinion but I’m going have to, to fully explain myself.

Firstly, the mention of Amelia being a children’s writer early on in the film gave away the fact that this was psychological rather than supernatural far too early. Couple this with the fact that her BFF, also early in the film, tells her that she is in a state of denial over her husband’s death (this particular sentiment was re-iterated several times), and the Babadook book rhymes that he’ll “…make a bet, the more you deny the stronger I get”.

Secondly, the cute fluffy animal always ends up dead. ‘Nuff said.

And finally, who in their right mind hides under a blanket when the bedroom door opens of its own accord. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that not everyone have strong survival instincts and some would argue that she was not, in fact, in her right mind but Christ in basket, when you have a kid, you run! In addition to her ostrich tactics, she burns the only evidence to validate that there may be someone stalking her and her son.

Had these particular things been handled with more finesse, the director could have painted a truly eerie tale of a mother and son’s struggle to survive and hit you with an “it was all in her head” Kansas City Shuffle ending. But the fact that her clearly fragile mental state was so prominently displayed and the route to grief stricken denial was all but neon lit, it made the paranormal factor difficult to swallow. This broke immersion, so to speak, and resulted in the collapse of tension. Without the supernatural element, this would have been a heart wrenching story about a woman and her son, and their failing relationship due to her inability to move forward emotionally and psychologically.

In the final scene, after Amelia “defeats” the Babadook, she is shown feeding it a bowl of earthworms. It now lives with her and her son, in their basement. If you consider that the Babadook represents her grief, then this does not represent a positive action. I saw this as “feeding” the grief, rather than acknowledging it and trying to move past it. Had she been depicted seeing a shadow of the monster in a mirror and acknowledging its presence, even speaking to it to illustrate that she will not shy away from it and she will not be overcome again, I would have been more convinced. After all “you can’t get rid of the Babadook”, but as it stands there is no resolution and not in a good way.

My Rating: 2.5/5

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