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Babadook, The

IFC Films // Unrated // November 28, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted November 25, 2014 | E-mail the Author

The horror genre isn't for everybody. However, when I come across a true gem in the genre, it simply transforms into something irresistible. They have become quite rare, as the major Hollywood studios continue to settle for whatever will turn a profit with the teenage crowd, paying no attention to horror audiences. This is why we have to rely on independent features and foreign films in order to provide the thrills and chills that we're searching for. Yet, it can be incredibly difficult to achieve this, as there's a point in which we become desensitized to the majority of what filmmakers throw at us, but some artists truly understand rhythm and atmosphere in a way that truly leave us creeped out. Actress-turned-writer/director Jennifer Kent has done just that with her feature titled The Babadook.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother of Samuel (Noah Wiseman). She continues to be haunted by the death of her husband's violent death. Young Samuel continues to act out, pushing Amelia over the edge. He continues to have a tremendous fear of a monster lurking in the house, which she believes he's making up in order to get attention. Amelia soon discovers that a sinister presence is all around, and has disturbing intentions that threaten the well-being of both her and Samuel.

Going into The Babadook mostly blind, i was quite surprised to discover that the first act can primarily be classified as a drama. Amelia struggles with her personal demons, as she tries to maintain her job and control Samuel's disturbing behavior. As the film continues to move forward, she unravels further and finds herself more and more alienated from those she once identified as family and friends. Her son's violent actions have caused once friendly faces to go their separate ways, leaving Amelia in an even more vulnerable state. We're forced to watch this single mother suffer psychologically, as she does everything in her power to remain collected. However, these become failed attempts, as finds herself resenting her son for many of her troubles. These are two incredibly flawed characters, and depending upon your perspective, you'll root for one and loathe the other. This truly lends the picture to a fascinating dynamic held between a mother and her young son, who is literally screaming for attention.

Once we reach the second act, the horror elements begin to come out to play. Kent's screenplay is well-paced, but it can best be described as a "slow-burn" horror picture, as it never likes to give much more than a taste at any given time. One night, as Amelia is about to read Samuel a story before going to sleep, the child asks for her to read a book titled Mister Babadook, which she doesn't recognize. She goes on to read it anyways, and is absolutely disturbed by its twisted content. It's a spine-chilling story that explains the whereabouts of the entity in the house, how it enters one's room through the closet, and what it will do to them. What makes it even more eerie is the fact that it's entirely written in nursery rhymes, which will surely cause every hair on the back of your neck to stand up. Kent truly utilizes this book and various other elements in order to make our blood run cold. Notice the lack of jump scares and the abundance of chilling subtleties that truly haunt us.

Even by the time the third act is present, Kent still handles the film with an impressive amount of restraint. The Babadook is never about startling the audience, as she wants to get under our skin and play off of our most basic of fears. This is a massively successful technique that puts us at the edge of our seats. You'll be sure to find yourself tightening your grip on the armrest and clenching your jaw, as the picture's build is so incredibly tense. Once we reach the last act, we're introduced to the final showdown. The style that is maintained is something that hasn't been seen in the horror genre for years, and the execution is quite grand. However, by the time the credits are rolling, we're left with a bad taste in our mouths. The ending is most certainly not predictable, as it works on both the levels of character development and plot progression. While the final few minutes initially don't seem to fit within the tone of the remainder of the picture, there is a deeper meaning that is sure to resonate within the audience, and linger for days.

The performances found within the horror genre range from accurately depicting a level of fear to laughable delivery. Fortunately, writer/director Jennifer Kent has brought capable actors on board. Essie Davis is entirely convincing as Amelia. She does a wonderful job causing us to question her morals, as we struggle to determine whether or not she's somebody that we should sympathize with. Noah Wiseman gets a little a bit whiny as Samuel, but he's solid, for the most part. It can become incredibly tricky when dealing with child actors, but at least Wiseman is entirely believable as the troubled child.

Kent's ability to scare us proves to be substantially more effective when her visual design comes into the discussion. The film employs a brilliantly impactful atmosphere that perfectly captures the material. The color palette is muted in order to bring out the darkness of the blacks to the foreground. The remainder of the picture is filmed through an earthy brown-ish array of colors. With The Babadook tapping into our childhood fears, it is only appropriate that shadows be utilized as well as they are. Kent's use of those shadows is clearly inspired from expressionism, as seen in films such as Nosferatu. Other than the wonderfully creepy drawings in the book, we never actually see The Babadook. This creates a terrifying interpretation in the mind of the viewer, as we constantly fear what may be lurking in the shadows. The visuals are only elevated by the genius sound design, which makes every knock and unknown footstep leave an impression.

Modern horror films are lucky if they're even half as scary as The Babadook. Boasting an expressionistic style, this film is eerie beyond relief. It's subtle, yet tremendously effective. There isn't any need for cheap jump scares when writer/director Jennifer Kent is able to chill us to the bone. Yet, this is a film that is about more than a supernatural entity haunting a family, but there is a real core to this picture that truly manipulates the audience in a smart way. This film is a truly chilling and impactful tale. Despite a problematic conclusion, this is the best horror film of the year. The Babadook is what nightmares are made of. If you're a horror fan, then this is a must-see. Highly recommended!



Highly Recommended

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