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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.9%
Worth A Look75.86%
Average: 6.9%
Pretty Bad: 6.9%
Total Crap: 3.45%

3 reviews, 11 user ratings

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Babadook, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Kids Conjure Up The Damnedest Things"
4 stars

Even the most forgiving genre apologist would have to admit that 2014 has not exactly been a banner year for horror films with most of the year being dedicated to the usual array of lame sequels, spinoffs, knockoffs and standard-issue craptaculars whose most notable characteristic have been their utter forgettability--it has only been a few weeks since I saw them but if I had to take a test on the differences between "Annabelle" and "Jessabelle," I am not entirely confident that I could pass it. However, if the last few weeks are to be believed, all of that is about to turn around with the arrival of the Australian import "The Babadook." Having made a splash earlier this year at Sundance, the film has been slowly building a wellspring of support amongst fanboys and critics alike, sometimes in the most unlikely of places (when you see a low-budget horror film being discussed in earnest on "CBS Sunday Morning," you know something is up), and the hype was further stoked recently by no less a figure than William Friedkin, the director of a little thing called "The Exorcist," who recently dubbed it the scariest movie that he had ever seen. Now that it is hitting theaters at last, audiences will finally be able to determine for themselves whether the film is a genuinely classic on the level of "Halloween" or "Let the Right One In" or if it just another snoozefest like "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane" that unaccountably found itself on the receiving end of praise from people desperately trying to anoint a film as being the next big thing without quite deserving it.

So what is "The Babadook" anyway? It tells the story of a young woman name Amelia (Essie Davis) who, we learn, lost her husband in a horrible car accident while taking her to the hospital to deliver their first child. A few years down the line, Amelia still has not quite pulled herself together in the wake of that horrible tragedy and to make matters worse, her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a high-strung handful with a fear of monsters under the bed that has led to many a sleepless night for the both of them and highly aggressive behavior on his part that leads to him getting in trouble at school and further alienating her from even her own sister. Now there is not a glimmer of doubt to the fact that Amelia fiercely loves Samuel with every fiber of her being but his constant need for attention, not to mention the destructive implements that he constructs out of household items to "protect" the two of them from the monsters, has left her frazzled, frustrated and at her wits end.

One night, Samuel brings Amelia a book to read for his bedtime story that she has never seen or heard of before by the name of "Mister Babadook," a grim black-and-white pop-up book featuring a menacing title character who looks to be the result of a collaboration of Doctors Seuss and Caligari. Not surprisingly, this does not go over very well and Samuel is quickly convinced that Babadook is real and about to come after him and Amelia. She tries to convince him that it is just a book and even goes to a doctor to get him a sedative so that he can sleep, but she begins to have her doubts when she keeps trying to get rid of the book and it continues to find its way back into the house. Before long, she is going without sleep for days on end and is slowly becoming convinced that the creature has somehow come to life and is in their house. Things spiral downward until it becomes clear that one of two things has happened--either a supernatural storybook character has come to life and is about to do great harm to a woman and her child or a harried mother with no support system to speak of and virtually isolated has finally gone around the bend to the point where she could pose a genuine threat to the kid. I will leave it up to you to decide which of the two alternatives is scarier.

Of course, the question of even greater importance to most observers will no doubt be "Does it live up to the hype?" To be honest, the answer is "not exactly" but I hasten to add that it comes much closer to deserving all the advanced accolades than most films of its type to come along in recent years. First of all, the minute that anyone, let alone someone with Friedkin's reputation, pronounces something to be the scariest film ever made, it sets up expectations that it cannot possibly begin to match because viewers are looking so intently for the scares that they don't have a chance to sidle up on them in the ways that they do in the best horror films. Another problem is that debuting writer-director Jennifer Kent is clearly striving to make something more profound and allegorical than the typical scarefest and the sheer force of effort in that regard weighs things down at times--there are time when it feels as if Kent is more interested in inspiring term papers for media classes centering on feminist theory than in inspiring goosebumps. And while the finale is certainly well-staged and very effective, I could not help but notice some disconcerting similarities between the ending of this film and the climax of that other terrifying tale involving a disaffected mother, a hyper-aggressive kid and marauding invaders, "Home Alone."

That said, when "The Babadook" works, which it does roughly 95% of the time, it really works and the end results should satisfy genre buffs and neophytes alike. Kent's screenplay (which is an expansion of a short film that she made that had better be on the eventual Blu-ray) is a smart construction that is well-constructed, plays fair with audiences and finds a way of navigating the narrative so that we are never quite sure for the most part whether we are watching the story of a disintegrating psyche a la "Repulsion" or an especially nasty monster movie. Her direction of her material is even better--even though she was presumably working with a low budget, she nevertheless handles things in an undeniably stylish manner that manages to evoke feelings of dread and anxiety without resorting to the deployment of lavish special effects orgies or gallons of gore. The two central performances are quite striking as well--Davis gives an indelible performance as the mother who finds herself in the middle of a waking nightmare that she cannot escape from and Wiseman's turn as her high-strung kid is hugely effective at putting viewers into the mindset of his increasingly frustrated mom. As for the babadook itself, it should prove to be good old fashioned nightmare fuel for viewers of all ages, though I know that I would have loved to have had that book as a kid.

"The Babadook" may not quite be the genre game-changer that the advanced hype has suggested but it is so effective for the most part that only the most severe observers will feel anything resembling disappointment after seeing it. For Jennifer Kent, it proves to be a cinematic calling card of the highest order and I am now eager to see whatever she comes up with next (though I hope that it is something other than "The Babadook 2"). In terms of sheer filmmaking skill, it runs rings around most of the other films that have been produced in the last year with more money than style, energy and ingenuity. As for its ability to give moviegoers any genuine scares, I will put it this way--the chill that you will feel while watching it will have almost nothing to do with the lack of heat in the theater and almost everything to do with what is on the screen.

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originally posted: 12/19/14 10:28:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2014 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Stanley Film Festival For more in the 2014 Stanley Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Hawaii International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/01/20 dupadoit so ban me 4 stars
9/28/19 Dr. Lao Will disappoint people who just want to see a monster 4 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell not bad but the ending was rather silly 3 stars
1/19/16 Alexis H More sophisticated horror that is more in touch with reaility than most 4 stars
5/20/15 brian Classic horror, just not for slasher and jump-scare fans. 4 stars
4/29/15 The Big D Some scary bits, but the ending is somewhat cheesy. 3 stars
3/06/15 Meep Quite boring, nut I'm usually thoroughly bored by so called horror films 2 stars
1/29/15 Simplefilmreviews Best horror movie of 2014 5 stars
12/19/14 Langano Babastupid. 1 stars
11/18/14 MVC meh, the ending is thoughtless btw 2 stars
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  28-Nov-2014 (R)
  DVD: 14-Apr-2015

  24-Oct-2014 (15)


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