The Babadook (2014)

Director: Jennifer Kent

A historic day in the life of this blog, for today I bring you an honest to god/dess actual new cinema release for the first time. Yes, I’m so excited I had to bold, italicise AND underline that bit. So new, in fact, it only opened here last Thursday, though it opened at Sundance in January, whence come a number of good reports about it. On top of that, the film in question is an Australian horror film, which is a relatively rare beast in itself, as I’ve mentioned in the past, although it’s the sort of horror that tries to keep you guessing how much of it is actually supernatural as opposed to merely psychological. Certainly our two main characters are both on kind of shaky ground, a mother and her young child with a family tragedy—the death of the boy’s father in an accident while taking the mother to hospital to give birth to their son—behind them. At nearly seven years old Samuel is still shit-scared of monsters under his bed, and he’s having a rough time at school cos, well, they don’t really know how to deal with his behaviour. However, Sam’s problems kind of pale next to his Mum’s; Amelia’s relationship with the child is kind of strained by the aforementioned horror death, her other family relationships are collapsing, she can’t handle Sam’s acting up and generally everything is going to shit, stressful beyond belief with no end in sight. And then there’s the monster Sam is perhaps right to be afraid of.

The Babadook is really dominated by Essie Davis as Amelia, it’s a quite amazing performance of the sort that a film like this kind of needs to be built on; a lesser performance could’ve been damaging. As it is, the film has its own issues, some bits are handled kind of clumsily and it takes a while for it to really get going (it’s a 90 minute film that could’ve been about 70 minutes), but once it does there are quite a few effective things, particularly the severely desaturated colour palette and the sound (there’s a particularly dominating low-end rumble at key points that’s one of the scariest things in the film). The babadook itself is, intriguingly, never fully explained, we don’t quite know what sort of entity it really is, which leads me to a brief consideration of the film’s ending. This proved kind of divisive among the people I saw the film with this afternoon—I think it’s interesting, the others didn’t seem to think it worked—but I’m loath to spoil it as such, so I’ll just say it reminded me of the ending of Shaun of the Dead, except obviously played seriously. It’s not the sort of thing that’ll polarise people in the way, for example, the twist in High Tension does, and as I said I did think it was interesting, but I can understand it pissing some people off. On the whole, though, an fairly good feature debut from Jennifer Kent, whose future work should be worth seeing…

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