Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Babadook

Can you say "allegory"? I knew that you could!

The Babadook is an Australian horror flick that's got the good buzz, and said buzz is fairly well deserved: This is a simple but stylish horror flick with not a few things in common with the last horror flick we saw, Scream At The Devil.

A woman in labor is being driven to the hospital by her husband when they get into a horrible accident that kills him. Seven years later, Amelia is a harried, depressed single mom raising a serious handful of a boy, Sam. She's never gotten over her husband's death, and her son, desperate for her attention and to fill the masculine role, swears to protect her with his litany of weapons and traps, and some parlor magic (illusions) to boot.

Our story begins in earnest when the two find a child's book called "The Babadook" which is filled with a menacing ghastly story about a creature that, the more you deny it, the stronger it gets.

And, let me put my name in the hat for "Father of the Year" because I would totally read this horrifying popup book to my kids at bedtime.

Anyway, the Babadook begins to move from the pages to real life in an increasingly menacing fashion, about in accordance with Amelia's grasp on reality slipping. The interesting thing about this movie, in horror terms, is that you're never really sure if the babadook is going to get them, or Amelia's going to get them. Hmmm—perhaps like The Shining?

Actually, yeah, that's a pretty close comparison. Where The Shining hauntings are a manifestation of Jack Torrance's alcoholism, The Babadook's babadook is a manifestation of Amelia's inability to deal with her husband's passing. (There are some theories that there is no babadook at all and it's all Amelia. That's a bit far.)

I actually had a problem with this: It's just so, so literal. I was all "Hey, 'The Telltale Heart' just called to say 'Dial back the allegory a notch!'"

The Boy really liked it, as has everyone I've talked to. I did, too. I just was a little taken aback by the obviousness of it. Though, in fairness, while the allegory is obvious, the details are up for considerable debate.

Solid direction. Writer/director Jennifer Kent avoids cheap shocks and gore, making it work on a more emotional level. The Boy said there was music, because it stopped abruptly at certain horror points, but I would've said there was no music at all, especially when you'd most expect it, which I thought was a brave choice. (There's a music credit, Jed Kurzel, so there's music somewhere in there.)

Essie Davis (The Matrix Reloaded, Charlotte's Web) and Noah Wiseman are good in their roles as mother and son. Wiseman has a particularly tough role, and I'm inclined to credit the director with a big part of his success: His character has to undergo a transition between obnoxious monster child to brave warrior, but it's not that his character actually changes, but the way we perceive it. Barbara West was also quite good as the sympathetic neighbor.

Worth checking out.

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