Blogger Note: On Wednesday, May 13, I will be over at the Unicorn Bell, asking several strange what-if questions.
Where do you wander when you need a work break? My guilty pleasure is watching movie reviews on YouTube, in particular, ones by Chris Stuckmann. He's funny and talks about movies and movie-making intelligently. Usually I agree with his take on films I've seen, but we're not quite seeing eye-to-eye on The Babadook.
This film is a psychological thriller in which a bereaved widow and her son are haunted by the frightening, but never-quite-seen, specter called the Babadook. This ghost/demon/thing comes a calling after the mom reads about it in a spooky, pop-up book.
In the review above, Stuckmann gives the film kudos based on Essie Davis's outstanding performance as the mother, and how the underlying theme of grief plays out in the movie. I'd agree with that, but I still have a couple bones to pick. Spoilers galore, so consider yourself warned.
The first several scenes paint a grim picture of motherhood. Amelia is sacrificing everything to care for a singularly unappealing child. The shots of the boy screeching for his mother's attention make him look like a baby-bird: all neck and huge eyes. He does not give his mother a second of peace. She looses the respite of work when Samuel is kicked out of school. Having Samuel in first grade is so apt, because it's supposed to be the time in a mother's life when she can enjoy the freedom that comes with a full day of school. Amelia looses her relationship with her sister and niece when her son accidentally injures this cousin. Heck, Amelia can't even experience the release of, um, being "queen of her castle" without the boy launching himself into her bed with nightmares.
But that's not the worst thing Samuel's taken from his mother. On the way to deliver her son, Amelia lost her husband in a gruesome car accident. Now enter the Babadook. Up to the reading of the book that lets the boogyman in, I was pretty content. The story was a tad slow, but as a mom, I could relate to Essie's character. Then came the pop-up pictures of a mom (with long hair like Amelia) strangling first the family dog and then her son.
I groaned. Not because it's bad film-making. Presenting the picture book this way is a great tension device. From then on, whenever Amelia gets anywhere close to the dog, you flinch, knowing what's coming. The reason I groaned was because the last horror movie I saw, The Conjuring, featured a possessed mother intent on killing her child. In The Babadook, the bad spirit jumps into the mother's mouth when she's in bed (like The Conjuring). The mother acts tired and strange afterward (ditto The Conjuring). And the family dog dies (as does the dog in The Conjuring). This again? Really?
What distinguishes The Babadook from The Conjuring is how thin The Babadook paints the line between over-stressed mother and murderous mother. Now adults aren't always the culprits. There's several horror movies featuring murderous children like The Ring, The Exorcist, and The Omen. And there's several where the adults go for the kids: The Shining, The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, and now The Babadook. What happened to the American Dream? Deep down, do we all want each other's throats? And why, oh why, do filmmakers insist on killing the family dog all the freakin' time? I'm sick of it! Let Fluffy get a whiff of the bad juju and scamper for the hills.
I know, I know, nothing instills horror like the death of a beloved pet. At this point, however, it feels as cheap and as overused as the jump scares Stuckmann complains about. I wasn't too crazy about how The Babadook ends either. There's an odd shot of the earth below the garden that may or may not be the dog's body, and then we see Amelia digging up worms with Samuel. She takes these creepy-crawlies down to the basement to feed the Babadook, which is still hanging out after she up-chucked it out of her body. Yep. Not kidding. It's like the new family pet.
I think this symbolizes that Amelia can not completely rid herself of the resentment and bad feelings she has for Samuel, but she has safely locked them up in the basement of her subconscious, where they'll eat their worms and slink off to the corner like a good little dog when asked. The effect, however, was like seeing a snippet of Little Shop of Horrors spliced onto the end. What the . . . ?
Anyhoo, I think people who like thoughtful horror will enjoy this movie, but it wasn't an A film for me. Maybe a B or B+. Has the viewing of one film ever had a profound effect on how you view another?