Friday, 6 February 2015

Ba-Ba-Ba Dook Dook Dook - Supernatural Horror With A Little Oomph

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 poster

How's it going ladies and lady-dudes? Apologies for the sudden hiatus from both Rhona and I this past week, but you know how this stuff goes; one minute you're floating calmly atop the lilo of chill on the ocean of bliss, then all of a sudden the seagull of poor timing dumps an epic load of shit in your lap. In this instance, that seagull was more albatross-sized and happened to have a major case of the squits.

Like fishy napalm, it is.
But a week of wallowing in stress and self pity has given me plenty time to devour a load of great entertainment and junk food, so silver linings. One movie that really surprised me was last year's underground supernatural hit, The Babadook. My past history with supernatural movies on this blog has been less than positive; it's not a sub-genre I've ever really liked, especially when it comes to stuff involving spooky ghosts and the like, so to find a film of that type that actually impressed me is worth writing about. There's still some improvements to be made though...on with the critique!

man with top hat and moustache
I'll just put on my criticism hat.
The plot of The Babadook is classic ghost story stuff: person finds creepy book which is connected to very creepy monster that likes making you not alive any more. The difference here is that, firstly, said book is a children's story and, secondly, it really fucking shouldn't be.

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 book let me in
"So I heard you like PTSD..."
Oh, that not look scary enough?

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 book under disguise
"Gizza cuddle."
Just going back to the scene where Essie Davis' character Amelia reads the story to her son Samuel to get some screenshots has left me with chills. That scene alone is worth watching the rest of the movie for. I've not seen lore presented in such a beautifully simplistic yet effective way since...well the only comparison I can think of is the effortless exposition of a Studio Ghibli movie. The Babadook is immediately established as a tangible creature through the book (illustrated by Alexander Juhasz) and it's even more impressive when you find out that the whole legend of the Babadook was made up by the director, Jennifer Kent, all by her lonesome. Go you!

So yeah, the movie has very well constructed lore and a fully fleshed out monster to keep it up, but a lot of the uneasiness doesn't actually come from the titular bogeyman; it comes from this thing.

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 samuel soup
Ew, what is it?
Samuel is...a troubled child, shall we say? Having grown up alone in a house where his mother regularly battles with the immense guilt and trauma from her husband's death, he's a less than well adjusted little boy; a fact which leads to much of the tension in the movie. What would you do if you if your son was causing trouble at school? If he suffered constant, violent mood swings? If you suspected him of slipping broken glass into your food?

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 book murder son
That is indeed one way, yes...
The Babadook oozes from the very beginning with the same kind of terrible paranoia as found in the likes of Deliverance; where much of the horror comes from that dark place in the back of your head that whispers horrible things in your ear. Those sudden, shocking thoughts that chill you to the bone for even considering them. The stalker in the trees or the monster under the bed. And what if that's what you really want? What if the monster is real? What if you did wish your son was dead?

Even if this movie didn't have as great a monster as it did, I could still see it being a beautifully unsettling drama about a mother trying to cope with a trouble child and the immense strain that puts on her. But coupled with a creature that revels in toying with you, hiding in the shadows, giving you sleepless nights, The Babadook becomes a massive boiling pot of tension and anxiety. It's fatiguing to watch.

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 samuel treehouse
It takes a hell of a lot of energy not to wring his scrawny little neck.
Colour and cinematography-wise, The Babadook is beautiful in its muted simplicity. It would have been very easy to go full out Aussie with the style as many Australian films are wont to do for the sake of standing out from the international crowd, but instead it chose a much more universal route; drawing a lot of influence from Western rural horror, with the big houses and gardens and stuff. Little bits of the great red waste do sneak in to add that extra spice, particularly in sound, but not at all to the film's detriment.

In the aforementioned scene involving the Babadook's book (omg, Babadook is an anagram of "A Bad Book"), the sound of cicadas slowly creeps in under Amelia's voice and cuts out suddenly when she closes it. It's a great and simple trick that added extra uneasiness and distortion to an already pretty screwy scene.

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 book rumble ba-ba-ba dook
As you can see by the number of screenshots, this one 5 minute scene has quite a reverberating effect on the rest of the film.
Now, let's talk about one of my pet hates in horror. To be succinct, I'm talking about this:

Insidious 2010 horror film monster gif
Look at it too long and it makes you want to yawn.
OK, that scene in Insidious worked pretty well, but big bad monster there was flailed around the screen in the final act like a towel full of soap in an army barracks. The theory of less is more has never been more true when talking about horror, and it's a simple rule that so many films seem to be unable to follow: DON'T FUCKING SHOW YOUR MONSTER. Ever! Yes, that means all your painstaking hours of concept art and character design don't get to shine, but there's a reason the first Alien is a bone-chilling nightmare of awesome space horror and Aliens is like being lobotomised by Bane. It's the reason one of my favourite horror movies in recent memory is about genetically modified carnivorous alien cow foetuses (Every word in that sentence was completely intentional); because we never see the whole thing throughout. We're left to our imaginations. We make up our own monster and do the movie's job for it.

scary monster drawing
A solid, if poor, effort.
The Babadook was doing great on this front. We had little glimpses of the monster's coat and hate and spindly fingers, but no concrete being. It was freaky and awesome and spooked me nice and good. But then, all of a sudden, we get a shot of this thing (spoiler I guess):

The Babadook Australian horror film 2014 monster jump scare
He looks like the Headless Horseman from Sleepy Hollow, sans the added terror of being Christopher Walken.
Yes, it's only a split second shot (I had to hammer the spacebar to stop on the right frame), but the moment you see it's face you go "oh, it's...well it's just a dude with face paint on. No biggie." There's so much build-up about the Babadook's disguise and how horrifying his real self is underneath, that to have that as a reveal is disappointing and unnecessary; particularly as you never see it again for the rest of the film. It's like someone was filling in on for the director that day of the shoot and got the completely wrong end of the stick.

Black Books dylan moran bill bailey wine grapes of wrath
"We can only not show these bits of the monster. All of these, completely OK."
So yes, I've warbled on enough now. The Babadook is, in a word, great. You'd be doing yourself and everyone you love and cherish an immense disservice if you didn't watch this film. It's snappy yet brooding, has some stellar acting chops all over it, is full of meaty and contemplative matters of humanity and above all, it's hella freaky yo.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Having Dreams About Killing Your Own Children - 
Disturbing to say the least. Although if you don't have any kids or really don't like the ones you do have, then please speak to someone about these dreams you've been having. I'm worried.

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