Horror Movie Review by Michael Arruda
Here’s a follow-up review to L.L. Soares’ and my Cinema Knife Fight column on THE BABADOOK, a gem of a horror movie, in selected theaters now.
Actually, it’s not playing in that many theaters as it received a very limited release, but it is available on Comcast OnDemand, which is how I saw it.
THE BABADOOK tells the very depressing story of a young mother Amelia (Essie Davis) raising her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) on her own because her husband, Samuel’s father— was killed in a car crash on their way to the hospital the night Samuel was born.
Amelia has been depressed by this tragedy for Samuel’s entire young life, and as a result Samuel is quite the disturbed little boy. He acts out in school, seems to love violence and weapons, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he makes his mother’s life a living hell on a daily basis.
One night Samuel asks his mother to read him a picture book called The Babadook, and even though she doesn’t remember buying the book, she reads it to him anyway. It turns out to be a very sinister story, about a creature called The Babadook who once entering a house, never leaves. It causes Samuel to have severe nightmares, and soon he’s perseverating on the Babadook.
Amelia tells her son it’s just a story and for him to pretty much get over it, but when weird things begin happening, and a shadowy apparition enters their home, Amelia begins to think differently.
THE BABADOOK is a superior horror movie, extremely well-acted by the two leads, Essie Davis as Amelia and young Noah Wiseman as Samuel. It’s also brilliantly directed by Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the intelligent screenplay. The film works on multiple levels. Is it really a supernatural being haunting them, or is it all in their heads? It offers many creative touches, and nearly everything in the film works. Best of all, for a horror film, it’s damn scary!
My favorite part in terms of its being scary is that all the scares in this movie are real scares. There’s not a false scare to be found. No friend jumping out from behind a character’s back saying, “It’s only me!” The scares in this movie are all authentic.
Essie Davis delivers an excellent performance as Amelia. She completely captures the angst and depressed anxiety of a single mom trying so desperately to take care of her son but consistently failing to handle him. At times, she makes you want to cry out loud. Because of her anxiety, she suffers from sleep deprivation, and I haven’t seen a character look this in need of sleep since Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan’s INSOMNIA (2002).
Every bit as good as Davis is Noah Wiseman as Samuel. When Samuel throws a tantrum, he becomes absolutely freakish, and yet we don’t despise him. He’s not evil. In fact, he comes off as almost mature when he declares he’s going to protect his mother from the Babadook.
The direction by Jennifer Kent is fabulous. There’s a claustrophobic feeling throughout which becomes more intense as the film goes along, as Amelia and Samuel become trapped in their home with the Babadook. The movie works so well because even before the horror elements show up, it gets under your skin with its emotional back story.
There are some really cool scenes here, and the Babadook shows up in a variety of creative and unexpected ways. The creature is also quite chilling to look at, even though we usually only see him in darkness and shadows, but the way he moves about, especially with his long slender arms, was reminiscent of Count Orlok in the silent German classic NOSFERATU (1922).
Creativity reigns throughout the film. Even the title is clever, as it’s an anagram for “A Bad Book.”
The screenplay is also terrific. It’s crafted in such a way that the entire story also works from a psychological standpoint. Amelia and Samuel, closed in together in their claustrophobic house, consistently drive each other insane, to the point where the Babadook becomes a physical manifestation of their illnesses. The film doesn’t come out and say this, which is what makes it work so well, because it can be interpreted either way. Even the ending, which is more creative than most, supports the psychological interpretation.
THE BABADOOK is a small Australian production, and as such, it’s a completely refreshing horror movie, unhindered by the restraints of the traditional Hollywood formula: loud sound effects, loud music, false scares, a shallow story and even shallower characters, all wrapped up with a forced ending which features either a twist or a last scene to show that the threat isn’t really dead after all. The ending to THE BABADOOK rises above this formula.
Like THE QUIET ONES which came out earlier this year, THE BABADOOK is a phenomenal horror movie, easily one of the best horror films of the year.
It’s not to be missed.