Review: The Babadook [2014]

BABA… BABA…

a review by the Crow.

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OPENING THOUGHTS

Here’s something you’ll hear me say quite often as these reviews roll on: Horror is hard.

Most of the fare we find floating about when we look at the genre at any slice of time is middling and formulaic. Making people feel emotions as intimate as fear can never be easy, but it almost seems as if many writers, directors, and producers working in the genre belong to one (or more) of the following camps:

  • lazy
  • incompetent
  • the type who just don’t give a shit and are just in it for a quick buck

Upon its release, The Babadook kicked up a flurry of conversation. It was different, they said; it was cleverer, they said; it was smarter, they said. Even William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist) had high praise for the movie. So, what is it that made The Babdook the acclaimed phenomenon it is? Is it truly such a great movie?

Well, let’s have the crow here weigh in, then…


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HOW GOOD ARE THESE BEDTIME STORIES?

WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS SOME [MINOR] SPOILERS

The Babadook centres on the life of a woman – Amelia – and her boy. We shortly find out that the father is absent (departed, not deserted), and that the boy had a part to play in his becoming absent, despite not yet being born at the time.

The mother’s life is a web of distress. She works in an old people’s care home (stints at the dementia ward, no less), she laments her loneliness, and her boy seems to do nothing but make every day ever-more difficult to get through.

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The child’s annoying, he’s the nightmare child we all know and dread. And he repeatedly establishes himself as so. He does it in front of Amelia’s jaded face. Time and again.

He gets told to stay home from school, injures his cousin at a birthday party, goes into the basement where his fathers’ things are, and walks in on his mother masturbating. On the whole, he allows his mother no peace and quiet.

Enter into their lives the children’s book: Mr Babadook. Soon after the night during which Amelia reads the story to her son, despite him wailing and screaming next to her as she nonchalantly goes through the text, strange things begin to happen.
Amelia blames the transgressions on her son, and her son, in turn, blames Mr Babadook. As the incidents continue to ramp up, Amelia finds herself contending with a monster that uses both her son and her departed husband against her, all while intending to use her as the vessel through which to enact its designs.

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The movie does touch upon some of the worst horrors available. If there’s one thing the movie excels at: it’s showing us just how miserable Amelia’s life is.

Ultimately, the story’s quite nice. It doesn’t reach far, because it doesn’t have to. It’s nicely constrained, and does its job well.

Warning: skip to the following section to avoid massive spoilers.

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Straying a bit further into spoiler territory than usual, it’s evident that the monster, Mr Babadook, is an extension of Amelia’s own darker self. Her son’s constant antagonism of her, the loss of her husband, and the desolate picture the movie paints of her life – all these factors come together in one psychotic episode from Amelia. Her confrontation of the titular monster is a battle against her own twisted thoughts. And just like past thoughts, the Babadook is not banished wholesale, but rather kept in the basement along with all the other memories from Amelia’s past (her husband’s things). The movie ends with Amelia standing strong against, albeit still threatened by, the darkness.


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THE CRAFT TO THE CONTRAPTION

In general, The Babadook is well made. It has polish and it has restraint.

There are exceptions, however. There are some minor details which I would usually excuse, but which annoyed me about this movie. Certain scenes were affected by what seemed to be a lack of resources, and its a shame they caught my eye so directly. I’m not going to fault the movie for it so much, but they could have and should have been avoided.

The child actor who is the target of this movie’s monster would have been the movie’s biggest drawback if not for a very significant reason.

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It can be incredibly difficult to direct children, but for reasons I’ll come to, I don’t mind what would otherwise break a movie. And the kid really, really annoyed me, but after realising the direction that the movie was going in, I found myself impressed by how annoying he was. Was it simply bad directing? Or was it the bad acting? My take is: it doesn’t matter. In the context of the movie, his being annoying works to further the plot.

It doesn’t, however, distract one from his incredibly bad acting. I know, I know  he’s only a kid. I’d give it a pass if not for the fact that certain moments of his performance could have very well been edited around.


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CLOSING… CLOSING… CLOSING… THOUGHTS, THOUGHTS, THOUGHTS… 

Overall, The Babadook is a fine movie, despite its flaws. It is not by any means the masterpiece it’s been made out to be.

Simply being different is not enough to make a movie great. Yes, perhaps the state of the genre makes it a much-needed breath of fresh air, but if we’re concentrating on the movie itself, it’s no more than fine.

Perhaps a better child actor would’ve helped the movie. Perhaps a little more care to the minor details I mentioned earlier would have helped as well. But in the end, do I recommend you watch it?

Certainly, is the answer to that question. If you’re the type who enjoys waiting for a movie to reveal its secrets; if you’re the type who likes depictions of characters caught in layers of conflicting turmoil; this movie is for you. Even if you’re not so inclined, I’d still recommend it as a change from the usual fare.

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Treat it like the first time you experience a strange new cuisine. Expect nothing particular.

Good job.

Rating: 6.5/10

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