Movie Review: “The Babadook”

18 May, L A.S. (2015)

What does G.R. Wilson think of The Babadook?

babadook

Saturday night, I got to see a movie I’d anticipated seeing for a long time: The Babadook, an Australian, indie Horror film directed by Jennifer Kent. I got to watch this intriguing film with a close friend on a dark and spooky evening, and I have a lot to say about it. Read on for my opinions on this interesting film!

What’s it about?

Before I dig into my judgement, I want to give a basic summary of what the movie is about, and what it’s “like,” in tone and feel. The story follows a single mother and her seven year old son, as they struggle through a daily life which is complicated by the mother’s continuing grief over her husband’s untimely demise, and the son’s increasingly paranoid and delusional (maybe not as delusional as his mother thinks!) behavior regarding an unnamed monster which he believes will attack at any moment. The mother does love her son and seeks to provide the best possible life for him, but…his disturbing behavior, his getting into trouble at school, (ranting about monsters, bringing homemade weapons to school to defend against said monsters,) and his blurting out of facts concerning his father’s death, all place a lot of strain on that love. A lot of strain.

The plot begins when the boy, who, like many nights, is scared about the monster, finds a mysterious pop-up book in his room, titled Mister Babadook, and asks his mom to read it to him. The book, through increasingly frightening pages, describes a boogeyman named the Babadook, whose presence will be made known by three knocks on the door, and a “Ba-ba-BA DOOK DOOK DOOK!” From then on, the kid gets worse, the mom gets worse, as the monster approaches and begins to stalk and torment them.

The Horror is psychological: we rarely see the Babadook, and the focus is more on the anxiety and tension of a woman trapped by her gnawing grief and its personified reminders, which alienate her from her remaining family and friends. The “thing” (her son) which holds the greatest connection to her husband, is also her greatest sense of torment, at least until the Babadook arrives…

The film is frequently surreal in style. There are multiple neat nightmare shots of the mom falling onto her bed, and another clever surreal sequence which I’d rather not spoil. Everything is bleak, there is a strong feeling of isolation and being trapped throughout the film.

Now what did I think of all this?

You might be surprised to hear this, but, I didn’t actually like this movie very much. It’s not BAD, but, it’s not great, either. If you want to see a good and recent indie Horror film about a stalking monster that personifies psychological problems, see It Follows. (Which, by the way, is getting its DVD/Blu-Ray release next month! I pre-ordered mine.)

The acting is good, the cinematography has its good surreal moments and is never really lame, the music is…fine, not great, it gets the job done. I was never going “AW YEAH AWESOME!!” about the music like with It Follows. The areas where the film truly falls apart are in the plot, and the monster itself.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but the plot really falls apart in the second half of the third act. There were too many small climaxes that just kept going and going, and the epilogue was just plain odd, not in a good way. The symbolism of it, as I interpret it, was different than what I expected considering what I thought the film was going for. It just didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of the rest of the movie and what the Babadook is like, as we see it. Speaking of poor old Mister Babadook, he’s not all that scary, I’m sorry to say, once we finally see him. The pop-up book early on gave me chills and got me excited and “fun-scared,” but then the actual monster in the flesh…he just felt too generic to me. I understand of course that Horror, like any genre, is going to recycle ideas from previous stories, but there wasn’t enough of an original spin on the boogeyman-type-creature here to hold my interest and have me saying “OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT!” when it appeared. Horror is a very subjective thing of course, so other people might find the Babadook to be much more effective. I know people have been puzzled by my terror at Asian women in white dresses with long black hair covering their faces.

But the subjectiveness of Horror doesn’t change the fact that the Babadook, in my opinion, didn’t have anything to add to the boogeyman-myth, and that the plot towards the end just falls apart and grows sadly tiresome.

This movie has a lot of effort put into it. And, in some ways, it does prove effective. I liked the acting, some of the camerawork was strong when it got surreal, and the pop-up book as a “haunted item” was creepy as hell. It’s not bad, but it sure as heck ain’t great. As the first Australian Horror film I’ve seen, it was not a good first impression. I wanted to like it more than I did, which is never a good feeling.

Ba-ba-ba DOOK DOOK DOOK!

-G.R. Wilson

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