The Babadook
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The Babadook

Like so many people I grew up watching the limited selection of genres never go to the movies with my friends. Saturday afternoons and then later as I reached my teens, Friday nights to go to films were usually science fiction and horror. Eventually as less experience increased pace expanded became true cinephiles eager to cue films in every imaginable category. Still, you never forget your first love and that statement remains axiomatic when it comes to movies. There’s something special about horror movie. You go into it fully anticipating being frightened; an emotional state designed to ignite the fight or flight reflex. The film is well maybe you will forget that you were sitting in the safety of a movie theater, or in the case of digital presentation, your living room and your adrenaline level will rise. Unfortunately, all is been co-opted by many nascent filmmakers and wall that, professional and artistically inclined, many seem to miss the entire purpose of this kind of movie. The monsters that populated the creature features we enjoyed as kids of had all frightening aspects diluted turning them into heartthrobs for teenage girls. Fortunately there are a few young auteurs active in the perennial ground of cinematic innovation, independent film. They, by their very nature have a propensity to eschew the tight concentration on profit held so dear by the studios, and instead focus their creative efforts into a work that better exemplifies the classic definition of the genre. In other words, they defined the trends instead setting out to make the creatures in their films frightening not romantic. Without a doubt one of the most successful filmmakers in this regard I have come across very long time is Jennifer Kent. You might recognize the name from the family-friendly film ‘Baby: a Pig in the City’ but this is hardly indicative of works that she has written and directed herself. Previously she has written and directed an episode for horror anthology TV series and a short film about things that lurk in closet at night. Now she has finally arrived at the release of the first feature-length movie ‘The Babadook’.

In order to achieve true horror that flows over the audience like a cold fog, the storyteller has to manage to incorporate several requisites in order to achieve the desired effect. Ms. Kent not only hits them all but she does so with great élan. First and foremost is to build some means that the audience can readily identify with the protagonist in the story. An exceptionally popular way to start a horror film with a flashback of some sort, which accomplishes several things; gives a reason why the main character psychologically or emotionally damaged in setting the foundation upon which the greater horror can be established. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow trying her best to raise the son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), on her own. The opening scene is a recurring dream for Amelia Richey is forced to relive the car crash that killed her husband. The dream proceeds in slow motion prolonging the agony of the experience. This also signals to the audience that the primary manifestation of horror be affected psychological manipulation. This in itself is refreshing considering all films of late that they are to avoid romance most frequently are reduced to the lowest level of monster movies. Here the soul means of generating terror is blood and gore invoking a quick visceral experience. Instead, you are able to realize right from the start is psychological thriller will require a greater amount of attention and a degree of buildup to achieve what it set out to do. The psychological motif is further reinforced by the effect losing a father had when young Samuel. In common parlance it might be said that the young boy is clinically disturbed and acts out with a dark demeanor. His preferred method of passing the time is the design and creation of various types of weapons. True the classical implementation of form, these early scenes will foreshadow what transpires closer to the dénouement. Samuel is also prone to uncontrollable tantrums and physically lashing out at all the children. Sam is convinced that he must prepare himself to vanquish a monster.

One evening at bedtime Sam brings a book innocuously located on his bookshelf to his mother. Superficially it seems to be just another children’s pop-up book entitled ‘Mister Babadook’, concerning a supernatural creature. When you consider that a large segment of literature intended for young children is actually quite scary Amelia, most adults, wouldn’t give such a book a second thought. In this particular instance though, the main theme is considerably more sinister than anything penned by The Brothers Grimm. The Babadook is a supernatural picture that once somebody becomes aware of his existence will dedicate itself to the unrelenting torment of its new victim. Sam becomes convinced that the Babadook has his sights set on their home. It is only natural that any sensible adult would dismiss the very thought such supernatural interference. Amelia started out with that train of thought but as events unfolded had to seriously consider the veracity of the children’s book. At first it was the spooky things that happen in any haunted house, was opening and closing on their own volition and strange noises are heard throughout the home. Soon, however, the threat level is drastically increased from disconcerting potentially deadly as Amelia discovers glass in their food. Amelia feels it’s just Sam acting out in some fashion but her son is more convinced than ever that everything is that’s happening is directly a result of the Babadook .

It seems as though I think event even escalate its presence is that a children’s birthday party. A certain scene in the ‘Omen’ should readily come to mind. The reason why this works as well as it does is that it provides an ideal juxtaposition of one of the happier events in childhood with the undeniable emergence of some deadly. And they sound as though a number of tropes and archetype are being recycled in this film but the near genius presentation by Ms. Kent, both in script and directorial style, elevates this movie far above what you’re used to so that it can be rightfully referred to as a neoclassic. During the party Sam wishes the birthday girl’s cousin will be (Chloe Hurn), out of a tree house simply for denying Sam’s contention that the Babadook is real. As Amelia was taking her son home he has another vision of the creature resulting in a febrile seizure. The doctor prescribed some sedatives in hopes of them having a peaceful night’s sleep but Amelia responds to some knocking at the door. Upon opening it she finds the book that she previously shredded once again complete and whole. This is the point where hacks are separated from genius. A lamentable number of directors would at this point allow the story to quickly degrade into a bloodbath of epic proportions. They would bring out the gallons of fake blood and animal entrails that occupy the sizable portion of their budget, attempting to close out as many members of the audience as possible. Thankfully Ms. Kent appreciates just what making a horror film means. She is not forgotten the tenants of the genre nor whole responsibility to pay for audience a good old-fashioned scare. As a psychological horror film the events thus far were intended to foster the proper frame of mind with the true terror of the film will produce. There are some physical manifestations of evil but they are intended to deepen the degree that your mind is focusing on the ever increasing terror.

Ms. Kent is quite adept at carefully leaving blues for the audience to find. This does require the viewer pay particular attention to the minutia of the stories elements. A style is heavily dependent on the finally texted imagery she crafts in the film. Differences in texture provide the feeling that a normal family home is beset by something awful. When combined with an amazing use of shadows and light story presented a duality where a mother and son who have already survived the terrible tragedy and loss are now forced to conquer evil producing fear that nothing could have prepared them to face. This is just one of the tightest, most efficiently made Holcombe that I have seen in many years.

Posted 04/08/2015

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