Sunday, October 23, 2016

31 Days of Horror: THE BABADOOK

Welcome horror fans, to Day 23 of the 31 DAYS OF HORROR! We are back in our lead up to Halloween with a superb Australian independent horror film from a couple years ago. We present to you...THE BABADOOK. Enjoy!

The Babadook is an Australian horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent. The film stars Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, and Barbara West, and tells the story of a mother, Amelia (Davis), and her son, Samuel (Wiseman), as they are struggling through life some years after the death of Samuel’s father on the day of his birth. Samuel believes there is a monster after them and it is causing him (and by extension his mother) insomnia. From this background we are given one of the best horror films in years.

The Babadook truly is one of the best horror films in a long time because this film really subverts our modern expectations and tells a deep story within a solid horror shell. This movie is fundamentally about depression, grief, and mental illness, not the creature feature that a very base view of it would make it out to be. Kent really takes a risk in this respect as she has a solid creature feature to fall back on but she chooses to challenge the audience by having a film with layers and depth. At the start we are really frustrated with Samuel because of how challenging he is as a child. This all pays off and when the film reaches its eventual conclusion you understand where everything is coming from and if you look beneath the surface there is a hugely interesting allegory to explore.

In addition to a risky and interesting story, this film has great performances, production design, and sound design. Essie Davis is truly superb. She is one of the most relatable characters to be in any film ever. She looks fully believable throughout and you understand her torn emotional state because of the performance Davis puts in. Noah Wiseman as Samuel is also excellent. He has the job of being very grinding on the audience for most of the film to being the most sympathetic character by the end and he hits every note of that perfectly. That is something most adult actors would struggle with and he pulls it off perfectly at his very young age.

As mentioned, the production design in this film is great. It is obviously a low budget independent film but the practical nature of all the effects and different things that happen in the film and the great paper textures used in certain sequences with the Babadook looked really excellent on screen. This was a great use of resources and, on the whole, are really well developed from a production perspective.

The last positive I would like to point out is the sound design in this film. Kent uses sound frequently throughout to create an atmosphere of uneasiness and it is tremendously effective. Through frequently discordant sounds, the audience is really driven mad along with the characters which makes the events of the film so much more appreciable and effective emotionally.

This film has very few negatives. It gives extremely short shrift to its secondary characters to be sure and though you can empathize with the lead characters you can still be frustrated by them. I also think that if you expect this to be purely a creature feature you will leave disappointed. I wouldn’t call that a negative of the film per se, but just something to adjust your expectations around.

Overall, The Babadook is an extremely brilliant horror film that explores true horror within the structure of fictional horror. It capitalizes on our fears through great performances, great production design, and eerie sound design. This film is a triumph and a must see for any film fan whether you like horror or not!

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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