Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Babadook

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?

24 comments:

  1. I got shivers just reading your review. I stopped watching horror movies about the same time as I had my children. Once you have kids, every little sound in the night wakes you up.

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  2. I've never seen The Babadook or seen those movie reviews on YouTube. WHen I was younger, I used to love scary movies, but now not so much. A lot of horror movies do the same things over and over again. They need to get original. That sounds like a weird movie...I can't say I'll ever see it.

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  3. It didn't gel for me either. Some of it was confusing and some things made no sense. (What was the tooth all about?) Now that you've pointed them out, I do see similarities to The Conjuring. Which was a much better film.

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    1. I agree, Alex! I was so disappointed by Babadook, and I really enjoyed The Conjuring.

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  4. There are movies that are original, and then there are movies that overuse the old and tired tropes. Sounds like this was one of the second. But when someone is really into a certain genre, they'll forgive the overuse of tired tropes because they still enjoy them. I've never been a horror fan, so I'll stay far away from this one.

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  5. I’m not into horror films, never have been. I can’t think of a film that has had an effect on how I view another.
    But, of course there is that other old argument, “Was the movie as good as the book?”
    I just finished reading “The Remains of The Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro”. And then I watched the movie. It was as good as the book.

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  6. THANK YOU! I was really looking forward to this movie, and I was so disappointed. I didn't find it scary at all, except for the kid--living with him would be terrifying. He was so awful that it was hard to feel sorry for him.

    And I feel the same about the ol' "kill the animal" trope. Yes, I'm a huge animal lover, but really...can't someone else suffer for once? Go, Fluffy, go!

    In the theatre people were laughing at this movie. I don't understand all the reviewers who said it was scary; I really don't.

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  7. Hmm, I don't watch thrillers or horror, but I'll have to give that reviewer a look for something other than scawy stuff (no really, I'm a big baby when it comes to genuinely scary stuff because then that's all I can think in the dead of night).

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    1. Chris Stuckmann reviews just about everything under the sun, so you should have no problem finding something more appealing. He also does longer reviews for truly terrible films, called Hilariousities, which are fun to watch, especially if you've seen the movie too.

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  8. I remember watching this movie and thinking what a weird name, anyway the plot was a stretch indeed, and I wouldn't place it in my top 10 psycho thrillers of all time. It's great review you have done though!

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  9. that sounds very weird. I like to go to "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee". this is Jerry Seinfeld with various comics riffing on stuff. And he always has some cool car to drive. it's quite funny. check out the site.

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  10. Oh no! I wanted to read this but I also want to see the movie, so I'm going to have to bookmark it and come back after I do. I'd never seen any of his reviews before, though, so thank you for introducing me to him!

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  11. I have hard time watching movies where animals suffer and/or die. Kill all the people, I don't care, but don't kill the dog!

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I solemnly promise to visit the blogs of all commenters (unless I'm abducted by aliens or my children get sick. If my children are abducted by aliens, I will be very busy, of course, catching up on my sleep.)