The Babadook (2014) (Not Rated)
What is now being heralded as one of the most original horror movies of the 21st century fails to live up to its own praise. "The Babadook" is the wunderkind of 2014, breaking out from Australia and making Jennifer Kent a more noticed presence, particularly for marking the territory of the horror genre as not a boy's only club.
The movie is a character study of a mother and her son. Amelia (Essie Davis) and Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are not your typical single-parent family. The husband is gone for the picture, having died on the ride in the car to the hospital when Samuel was born. Now without a partner to help her raise a troubled child, Amelia slips into some sort of rut. She can't seem to bring herself to be completely over the death of her husband; yet she can't exactly mourn day and night. Working at a nursing home, Amelia's job security isn't that great either. Basically, it's a stressful situation and it gets worse by the constant doings of Samuel.
This is a destructive little boy. He seems to be a genius with making toys for himself that can break windows or inflict the maximum amount of pain; but no matter, because it's only the repercussions of these actions that "The Badadook" really focuses on—not the fact that an extremely young child can manage to craft and perfect weapons.
It's this knack that Samuel develops that gets him into trouble. At school, a few darts aimed at the wrong places and Samuel is sent to too many detentions and the school board has "a talk" with Amelia, something that she doesn't take so well. She is convinced that Samuel is an outsider and will feel even weirder with the school's suggestion: have a one-on-one monitor help Samuel, Convinced that she's doing the best thing, she pulls Samuel out of school and searches for another one, as the anniversary of her husband's death starts to roll around again.
Troubled sleeping seems to run in the family because Samuel will often wake up in the middle of the night having nightmares. Ah, and what a lovely time is coming their way.
One night, Samuel picks the book Mister Babadook as the midnight reading of choice and it is a hell of a bad idea. This quirky looking book dissolves into a scream-fest when the titular character threatens to kill the reader. It's only a few pages long and yet the book manages to chill both Amelia and her already monster-skiddish son.
So the book goes on the top shelf and it isn't thought of again, until weird instances start occurring around the house, usually at night time. This is added onto the already straining relationship between Samuel and Amelia.
Other quick jolts of violence firmly condemn both Amelia and Samuel as the outsiders in the realm of the movie.
But wait...there's more.
As the pressure of the nighttime scares starts to get to Amelia, the power balance shifts as does the animosity.
This titular nightmarish figure appears to be haunting Samuel, but his mother is still convinced that he's playing, so she ignores it until it becomes almost irrefutable.
"The Babadook" makes the most of the littlest. The simple knocking of a door can send chills up your spine; but here's where Kent runs into an enormous problem: there is nothing new to the horror genre. By watching old silent horror flicks, Amelia is Kent's way of acknowledging this fact; but it still isn't enough to push us into the unique territory. "The Conjuring" was so self-aware and so deliciously understanding of this fact that it didn't bog the horror down or make it feel....lazy, for lack of a better word.
It's all been done before and true to the mold, Kent's movie has a horrible third act that does not satisfy in the least. As always, what it unseen is the scariest, for when the Babadook starts to reveal more and more of itself, it starts to trip and suffocate.
"The Babadook" has powerful performances that are sometimes misguided. It's scary, yet; but not scary enough.
Pardon the horrible sentiment, but sometimes the Babadook, baba-doesn't.
Posted by Micah Jones