A Trip To The Movies – Review: “The Babadook” 12.27.14

As we enter the new year I’m going to be making some more changes to the site. Some feedback I’ve gotten is that my reviews have a tendency to be a little bit too on the lengthy side. So rather than give descriptive overviews of what I like about a director or actor I’m going to trim that section down to make it a bit more accessible for the reader. I will still continue to give a brief summary or synopsis of each film, hopefully without giving away any spoilers, but moving forward you will see more of an emphasis on the aspects I either liked or disliked about the film, with just a short explanation of why I decided to see a film, my thoughts on the director or actors previous efforts, what the “experience” was like for me, etc. And try to come up with something that reads like more of a somewhat traditional movie review than an essay.

The anticipation was high for Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent’s new horror film “The Babadook”. Knowing little to next to nothing about it other than it fell into the horror genre, was garnering a lot of attention and gaining a great critical reception reflected by its high scores and good reviews, on top of the fact that the godfather of horror – director William Friedkin (1973’s “The Exorcist”) himself called it and I quote “the scariest movie I’ve ever seen”. Quite a dubious endorsement indeed by one that horror fans worldwide heard and took note similar to that of myself. So with that being said I made plans several weeks in advance to see it, at the smallest and most intimate theater here in town, in hopes that I would be paired up with a sold out audience (which turned out being the case) where it would be so quiet you could hear a pin drop (which didn’t happen to be the case). Though truly the only way to see a horror film such as this. But more to come on that further down.

The story starts off showing the turbulent relationship between a recently widowed mother Amelia (played by Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (played by Noah Wiseman). Samuel seems to be obsessed with ghosts and other supernatural things that he swears he can see but his mother begrudgingly cannot. Samuel has developed such an obsession that he has constant temper tantrums and acts out incessantly, which distances both he and his mother from the local townspeople, the school which Samuel attends, and Amelia’s family. As his excessive talking about evil spirits and ghouls turns most everybody away from the mother and son. One day though, Amelia receives a strange velvet red what appears to be children’s book titled “Mister Babadook”. At first it just seems cautionary, as there are several warning signs within it, similar to that of something out of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992) or Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser” series (1987-present) where opening up the book is like opening up some kind of Pandora’s box. But then Amelia starts to see images that apparently her son has been seeing all the time, and starts to get convinced that maybe the two of them are experiencing some kind of similar supernatural spirit, one that has the ability to take over a person’s mind and body. The stakes get higher when Amelia receives a “second” “Mister Babadook” book. Except unlike the first book, this one contains a much more grisly tale that actually maps out the future of both the mother and child with very alarming predictions. It is at this point where a paradigm shift takes place in the film, and to continue to discuss it any further would require me to divulge important plot details.

My filmgoer partner and I had only one word to describe the film when the house lights came on and the credits rolled – “underwhelming”. We also both agreed that while disturbing and a bit unsettling at points, there was absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, that was even in the slightest bit remotely scary about this film. What we also agreed on is that if you set out to make a true modern-day horror classic it has to be at least scary to hold any sort of credibility. Almost the entire last row in the theater was laughing throughout most of it. Which I at first found annoying, but then I thought to myself “wait, the outrageousness of it all was actually pretty funny”. So that gave them reason to laugh. Sure it serves up some chills, particularly in the performances of its 2 leads which I thought was the best thing about it. Other than that I thought it wore its influences on its sleeves, paying equal homage to movies like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1981) which mirrored 2 of the relationships in that film. I also think it owed quite a fair amount to Takashi Shimizu’s “The Grudge” (2002 and 2004) in terms of its images and execution of the horror. It also can’t be discussed without discussing 2013’s far more scary and terrifying – James Wan’s “The Conjuring” containing within it a far superior better tale of demonic and supernatural possession. It also owed just as much to Scott Derrickson’s “Sinister” (2012) in terms of the creature department, Bernard Rose’s “Candyman” (1992) (replacing name chanting for silly knocks), and finally, another Sam Raimi film – 2009’s “Drag Me to Hell” which this film’s ending almost reflected exactly how that one did. But enough with the comparisons – I just really had a hard time getting into something that didn’t feel even remotely original. What I will say is is that writer/director Jennifer Kent does a pretty good job here in creating a creepy mood, tone, and atmosphere as I was slightly captivated by some of the shots and the use of lighting. However despite that I never thought its psychological tone ever really took off and brought me into the territory that only some of the best psychological horror films do. For your average Joe this would be a worthwhile rental when it comes out on DVD. For others I know who are pretty seasoned horror fans I’ll finish by saying this – “don’t believe the hype”.


3 thoughts on “A Trip To The Movies – Review: “The Babadook” 12.27.14

  1. Yea, one of the reviews I read before watching TheBabadook compared it to my favorite Horror movie of the past 15 years, TheOrphanage (El Orfanato), so I had big expectations for this one going into it (plus I am a single Dad & admittedly get scared as hell sometimes when in an empty house, I’m putting my 3 yr old to bed & she says, “Dad, what was that noise?” like she heard someone downstairs or something – scares the shit out of me).
    Unfortunately, The Babadook didn’t scare the crap out of me.
    I did find the story to be very compelling (loved the setup, grieving single Mom, the creepy children’s book, thought it created the right mood & atmosphere – almost like a supernatural fairytale), thought the 2 main actors were great, but definitely echo your comment.. found it to be a bit underwhelming in terms of the scares.
    The Babadook.. 83/B-


  2. I have to completely disagree with the C+ grade here. I thought the film was fantastic. You say it wears its influences on its sleeve like “the Shining” (ok whats wrong with that). The protrayal of the lead actress getting driven bonkers by her son who believes there’s a monster always lurking to the brink of her sanity I thought was unreal. Very much like Nicholson in “The Shining”, the kid was even creepier than Danny from the “Shining” imo. If your going to wear influences on your sleeve (which you can say about 90% of the films coming out of Hollywood today are) then “The Shining” is a fine one if you ask me. I wanted to go through the screen and punch the little kid in the face about 10 times he was so good at being annoying, he had that much of an effect on me (obviously would never do that just saying). Fantastic cinematography, unreal score by Jed Kurtzell ( of “Snowtown Murders” fame), unreal acting that should not go unlooked in awards season but will. As far as scares, yeah not much scares me having seen well over 1000 horror films and being a buff of the genre, but I thought it created a very eerie, creepy dark atmosphere which was right up my alley. I think your overlooking the film as trying to scare you, when I think Jennifer Kent was trying to just make it a dark psychological thriller. Just because Friedkin said it was the scariest film he’s ever seen doesn’t mean you have to go into it thinking you’ll be spooked when you leave the theater (Yeah the “Exorcist was fantastic but I don’t hold him in high the guy in clout guy hasnt made a good film since “Blue Chips” and I only liked that for the hilarity factor and that was in’ 94, don’t give me “Bug” or “Killer Joe” both movies were terrible). In my opinion a great addition to the dark psychological realm ala a film like “Session 9” and one that I think you should sit down and revisit when it comes out on DVD. I’ll be buying it.


    1. I think there’s something seriously wrong with a film that wears its influences on its sleeves. If it truly is a “masterpiece in modern day horror” an expectation I have is that it least it needs to seem original. Which it did not. To make such a fallicious statement like the kid was as good as Danny in “The Shining” is ridiculous. Danny was much more convincing and effective as a trouble kid with clairvoyant powers in “The Shining” then the kid was in this one. Comparing the two doesn’t even seem fair. I’m not going argue with the cinematic elements you pointed out. I agree in that the cinematography was very well done and I thought they did a pretty good job with the score (but nothing spectacular). The mother and son two leads too did a great job. But I thought some of their performances, particularly the mom, bordelined on over-acting. Especially when she really starts to get possessed and starts spouting things about killing her kid. I thought they went a little overboard with that as did the theater I saw it in. As I mentioned in the review the entire back row of the audience in the theater was laughing throughout those scenes. Because you could tell they were just trying to go so over the top to convince the viewer she was going crazy. I too agree with your comments about it being eerie, somewhat creepy and unsettling, and dark. But to me if you’re truly going to create and be known for making a true modern day horror masterpeiece it at least has to be something that is remotely scary. And if we’re talking psychological, to me how I gauge howe good a psychological film is is how well it penetrates your brain and plants a seed in it, commanding your attention and making you think about what you’ve seen for days, sometimes weeks after you’ve finished watching it. This film did known of those things other than it barely got into my head and didn’t do anything to toy with it or make me feel scared or disturbed once it got in there. Then leave me feeling completely underwhelmed once the house lights came on. So that’s why I gave it the grade that I did. An ambitious debut effort for first time writer/director Jennifer Kent that shows that she has a good sense of style but not the best sense of execution. I will however be keeping her on my radar for future projects to come.


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