So Good, It’s Scary
It is sad to say that the formula for making a modern horror film has changed a great deal over the last forty years. The new standard is apparently engineered for a much younger demographic – the barely pubescent teen who sneaks into the rated R film – and thus makes the “New Horror Formula” more difficult for older audiences to relate.
Now, in order to make a modern horror film, just follow these simple steps:
- Show happy, beautiful young people and establish that they have a bright future.
- Abruptly end that future via being brutally murdered by monster/psycho/hunky teenage vampire.
- Roll credits. We’re done here.
I can still remember the days when I would sit in my father’s lap and watch The Amityville Horror or Alien with my eyes glued to the screen, my heart pounding in my chest while I waited for the monster to appear and eviscerate our hero. For me, that is the real difference between then and now. Now the horror genre seems happy to shock the audience with genetically fortunate juveniles being dispatched with intense amounts of gore and easy jump scares.
But that’s not quite the same thing as fear.
Fear is not about seeing the monster. It’s about NOT seeing the monster.
The latter is what director/writer Jennifer Kent has delivered with her debut film The Babadook and she delivers it in fine style.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother who struggles with her job, her difficult relationship with her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney) and most of all, her very troubled seven year old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). She works at a nursing home where she dutifully tends to the needs of cranky seniors only to come home and keep the peace with her loud and clingy son. One of the major themes that runs throughout the film is the subtle resentment that Amelia feels for Samuel born from the tragic accident that claimed her husband life as he drove her to the hospital the day Sam was born. Even though she knows it’s cruel and unreasonable, she still holds Sam responsible for her husband’s death.
One night at bedtime, Sam grabs a children’s storybook from the shelf that Amelia doesn’t recognize called ‘Mister Babadook’ which contains pictures that are oddly similar to Amelia and Sam with nursery rhyme warnings of a malevolent entity which demands that you “LET ME IN!”
What follows is some of the most creepy and exciting psychological storytelling as the audience watches Amelia deteriorate into madness. Mister Babadook is tormenting her son and Amelia is increasingly frustrated trying to explain to Sam that monsters are not real, until the book gives her a new warning – “I’ll make you a wager, I’ll make you a bet, the more you deny, THE STRONGER I GET!”
This film brings together very gritty real life challenges and frustrations with a supernatural angle that was beautifully executed. Amelia is so relatable that when she finally does break down and lets Mister Babadook ‘in,’ we feel as afraid for her as we do for her son. Truly great storytelling.
Jennifer Kent is someone who sincerely understands how fear works in movies.
The Babadook is certifiably creepy while watching it but the true fear comes in the middle of the night while lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and you ask yourself what was that noise in the bathroom. I am a thirty year old man that I made peace with the monsters under my bed sometime ago, but The Babadook took me back to a time when I would have bet my life that there was a vampire living in my closet and I would be forced to investigate with nothing more than my courage and a plastic He-Man sword.
Davis is outstanding as Amelia. She really carries the film with the wide range of emotions that she seamlessly flows through, from gentle and compassionate mother to possesed knife wielding maniac and everything in between. I genuinely felt awful for her situation and what she was going through, such that even after she succumbs to Mister Babadook, I felt I was still rooting for her to
fight back and resist his influence.
Wiseman’s portrayal of Samuel is quite simple, he acted like the monster child that most parents have nightmares about.
Solid performances all the way around but Wiseman did deliver a lot of his lines awkwardly. Given he is just a kid, so I think we can give him a pass on that.
The visuals and music are simple yet creatively done. Mister Babadook at his core is really just a tall thin man in an overcoat and a top hat. Yet whenever he flashes on screen he has an immediate and creepy effect. The music only really adds a small amount of tension to important scenes and is otherwise forgettable. Unfortunately Mister Babadook’s voice and noises are very poorly done, such that it sounds like they were ripped from a CD called ‘Monster Noises VOL 7.’
All Said And Done
‘The Babadook’ is the first horror film in a long time to truly live up to the genre and bring you that genuine movie fright. No needless gore, no easy jump scares, just simple and terrifying story telling from someone who finally understands that fear is about those terrible moments when you are waiting for something awful to happen.
Noah Wiseman is convincing as a little brat and he even delivers some unsettling moments of his own when he roughly grabs his mother’s shoulders shouting “DON’T LET HIM IN! DON’T LET HIM IN! DON’T LET HIM IN!.” He is still a child though, so his ability to emote is naturally limited. However, Essie Davis more than makes up for this and her performance overall is outstanding.
Aside from the awkward line delivery and some technical issues, I was hugely impressed with this film and I challenge any of my fellow critics out there to watch this movie just before bed and resist the temptation to lay in the dark without checking the closet one more time…just to be sure….