THE BABADOOK (2014) - A Review
So we went from seeing a not so good movie the day before (The Interview), where the show was sold out and then some, to seeing a much better film (The Babadook) where we were literally the only ones in the theater. Yes, my wife and I had our own private screening. Hopefully business will pick up, because, imperfect though it may be, The Babadook certainly deserves to be seen.
Here's a film that's in a bit of a bind, though, audience attracting-wise. It's being marketed as a horror film, which, in a sense, it is. But it's actually more of a dark drama, with the horror coming from the all-too-common terrors of mental illness and family dysfunction. If you take the single worst moment of stress, frustration, exhaustion, anger and loneliness that every parent must have felt at some time, and extend it out over 90 minutes, then you probably get something like The Babadook.
Essie Davis plays widowed mom Amelia. Noah Wiseman is her seemingly troubled son, Sam. Her late husband died in a car crash while driving Amelia to the hospital while she was in labor. She hasn't been the same since, and hasn't been able to move on - especially since Sam is quick to talk to anyone and everyone about how his dad died while driving his mom to the hospital to have him. Loneliness and a deep sense of loss hang over them like a dark cloud.
A more literal dark cloud appears when Sam becomes convinced that a character named Mister Babadook has entered their lives, and is bent on doing them harm. Sam's increasing paranoia and acting out over this are all it takes to push the family over the edge, with disastrous consequences at work, school, with friends, etc. Soon, what had been a shaky foundation for Sam and Amelia has crumbled altogether, and what had been a slow downward spiral becomes a headlong plunge into Hell.
Is the Babadook real, or imagined? If the Babadook is real, who is really the Babadook? Is the menace to Sam and Amelia internal, or external?
Lots of questions, and I won't answer any of them here, because they're open to interpretation, and you should see the film and decide for yourself. This is the first feature written and directed by former actress Jennifer Kent, and it is a very accomplished piece overall. The acting and direction and (notably gray and black) production design are all excellent. This is very much a women's picture, in the best sense, which raises another quandary for the film, since I suspect that this might well be a story that a lot of women - well, women who are parents, anyway - might really dislike, or feel uncomfortable with. Far from being some out-there horror fantasy, this is a film that goes to some all too real dark places.
Though I liked the film quite a bit, I did have some minor issues with the ending - details of which I will not (SPOILER NON-ALERT!!!) go into here. I urge you to see it for yourself, and then discuss.
In the meantime, here's hoping that some smart producer somewhere is, even as we speak, offering Jennifer Kent lots of money to do something else. Creativity and talent such as she has demonstrated here should be rewarded and encouraged. Here's hoping.
Thanks to Paul at the Darkside for bringing this in. Here's also hoping (again) that business picks up for this film.