At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Babadook “2014”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Babadook “2014”

MPAA Rating: NR/ Genre: Psychological Horror/Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear, Cathy Adamek, Craig Behenna, Chloe Hurn, Jacquy Phillips, Bridget Walters, Adam Morgan, Charlie Holtz, Tim Purcell, Hachi the Dog/Runtime: 94 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to start this review off by providing you with a list of terms. Those terms being rebuttal, enrage, negotiating, sadness, and embracing. Now, for those of you not in the know, this list of terms is extremely significant due to the fact that they are, in order no less, the five stages that every single person on this planet goes through when dealing with that pesky emotion known as grief. With all of that in mind however, I am extremely confident that the extremely potent and on-point horror slice of cinema I am reviewing for you all today, 2014’s The Babadook, is one that might just be that rare slice of cinema to contribute additional phases to that list. I say that because even though this horror slice of cinema is one that, on first blush, may appear to be nothing more than a typical run of the mill look at a off-kilter mum and her just as disturbed child struggling with a nightmare that may or may be of their own making that isn’t entirely accurate. That’s because when one makes the choice to dig a wee bit deeper, one will find that this is actually a terrifying riveting investigation into how hard it can be for as people to just keep living even when a gut-wrenching death takes an individual that we hold dear away from us just at the moment that we find that we need them the most. Indeed, the fact that this film is able to provide movie goers with such gravitas whilst choosing to stay as on point in regards to its nuance as it possibly can is just one manner in which this “Little Australian Slice of Cinema That Could” is proving to be able to cleanly rearrange distinct stereotypes for the horror genre into a film that has a teeny tiny bit more in terms of substance than films in this genre typically provide you, the viewer with. Indeed, I have had the immense pleasure of viewing quite a few movies in my life, but even I must admit how incredibly thankful for a slice of horror cinema like this. Not only because this horror film is one that is able to do what it needs to do without the aid of gore, cheap jump scares, or anything of that ilk. Nor for that matter is it because of the phenomenal work being done by both sides of the camera. Rather, it’s because here is a film that touches on a universal constant that we as human beings have either already dealt with or eventually will have to deal with and is able to make it no more and no less than the thing that genuine nightmares are made of….

The plot is as follows: The Babadook tells us the story of a young boy by the name of Samuel and his loving mother Amelia. Normally, the pair has a fairly good relationship, but there is perhaps one distinct caveat to that statement. That caveat being that she may not have the heart to tell him, but Amelia never really does look forward to Samuel’s birthday. Now it’s not because she doesn’t love her son, far from it actually. Rather, it is because the day that Samuel was brought into this world was also the day Amelia’s beloved husband tragically lost his life while getting her to the hospital to bring Samuel into the world. To that end, we see that when our story opens proper that close to seven years have come and gone since that day and bringing Samuel up in this world without his dad has definitely been by no means easy. Indeed, not only because Amelia is still wallowing in grief from the loss, but because Samuel is no more and no less than an absolute mess. A belief best showcased by both outbursts he has as well as a determined fascination with creatures that do not exist that also manages to incorporate Samuel constructing weapons that he says will help to fight these monsters off. Incidentally, it is perhaps this curious fascination with creatures held by the youngster that is why we see Amelia one night read Samuel a tale from a red and black bound pop-up book on his shelf that she does not recognize with the title of Mr. Babadook and which tells the slightly unnerving yet simple tale of a creature that has no limit to how far he is willing to go to psychologically and physically taunt his victims once he is allowed access into the world. Yet while Amelia is just simply unnerved by the story, we see that Samuel starts to believe that the creature is a genuine threat rather than just the character in a story. Of course, it isn’t long before eerie things start to occur. Things that not only begin to show that one of the two trains of thought is more dependable than the other, but also place our two main characters on a collision course with a menace that proceeds to drop them face first into a waking nightmare that is more terrifying than anything that they have ever known……

Now right off the bat, it should be noted that, despite possessing a more miniscule budget than you might be thinking, this slice of cinema is still able to brilliantly show that in the realm of horror cinema less CAN be more. Indeed even though a lot of other horror films utilize blood and guts and/or jump scares to name some examples, this is one that is very much meant to remind the viewer that at one time all you really needed to scare people was three-dimensional characters and the power of imagination. With that in mind, I think it can be safely said that film helmer Jennifer Kent does a brilliant job both in how she permits movie goers to let our own imaginations construct up the titular entity only to then bring him to life in a manner that is nightmarishly fantastic. On top of that, Kent also does a wonderful job at bringing to life an environment that proves to be a fiendish double-edge sword in that they can’t leave because of Samuel’s behavior, but they can’t stay in because of the terror that is inflicting them inside. Aiding that immensely is the work done by the production and set design teams at making the home that our main characters reside in one that you would not be surprised to see in one of the more macabre cinematic efforts Tim Burton ever sought fit to give moviegoers. Indeed, every nook, every cranny, and every single item inside is there not just for decorative purposes, but because it has to be and the film does a wonderful job of paying off on that in quite a few ways. Suffice it to say therefore that if you are the kind of cinema lover whose horror preferences are ones that just have to have cheap jump scares, visceral content, and even moments of clarity involving a sinister force then I hate to say it, but I am definitely of the opinion that The Babadook is not a walk down the nightmare mile that really will appeal to your particular sensibilities. However, if you are the kind of horror cinema aficionado who appreciates a good slow-burn saga in the vein of something like The Haunting from 1963 and can get behind witnessing a story unfurl before you that, at its core, deals less with things that may or may not go bump in the night and more with the relatable phenomenon of permitting your grief in the wake of a horrific tragedy to come dangerously close to taking over you as well as your life then I think it is fairly safe to say that you will have no problems enjoying this genuinely unnerving as well as fairly multileveled cinematic outing.

Of course, for all the wonderful work done behind the camera, it is the performances in front of the camera that help to ensure that this slice of cinema is a well-rounded and fantastic film in every way. This starts with, in the role of Amelia, Essie Davis who after working hard for a solid 2 decades in the land of movie magic, complete with iconic turns in such cinematic efforts as the second as well as the third entries in the Matrix saga, the 2006 live action adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, and Code 46 among others steps up to the plate and manages to give one heck of a performance here in this slice of horror cinema. Indeed, Davis manages to do a brilliant job of showcasing for us as movie goers the complete exasperation, the utter depths of frailty, and the lake of distress that comes with being a single parent who is at the end of their rope in more ways than one yet who finds herself stuck in an intriguing situation that may be terrifying yes, but is also one that could unexpectedly give her and her child the closure they desperately need. At the same time, this movie also does something quite distinct with this character. Namely that whereas other slices of horror cinema view mother figures as devoted and willing to keep their charges safe, this film permits the character of Amelia to be nowhere near that righteous, but that is ok because this also helps to make the character more understandable. Suffice it to say that there will be elements to both the performance and the character’s arc that you might be able to see coming from a mile away, but when looking at it through the prism of the film in general, this is one performance that definitely works and then some. By the same token, it should also be said that we get just as on-point work here from Noah Wiseman who, in the role of Samuel, does a great job at making sure this film isn’t just viewed as yet another run of the mill “child possibly taken over by evil force” film. That is because, much like his dear ol’ mum, Samuel is not just a conduit for wickedness, but also a victim as well due to being unable to convey his terror at the nightmare he is stuck in. Yes, Wiseman is legitimately spooky, but he also makes sure that we can view the character of Samuel with a degree of sympathy as well even if the situation he is stuck in will chill you to the bone. Thus when you also factor in terrific work from a supporting cast that this film permits to all actually be three-dimensional characters as well rather than just operate as mere fodder for the titular creature to just make his way through, there is no denying that this slice of cinema is also a wonderful showcase for its gifted cast of performers as well.

All in all if you have ever read my writing or had the pleasure of talking cinema with me at some point or another you should know that I am a huge fan of horror cinema be it the schlocky Sci-Fi Channel Originals that they unleash upon us every year, a film like Hellraiser which has quite a far amount of blood and guts on display, or even a slow and steady descent into psychological terror in the vein of something like The Shining. Indeed it may make me seem more than just a wee bit in terms of twisted, but in all fairness when your dad is showing you at 6-7 years old such gems as Cannibal Holocaust, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Alien to name but a few of the countless VHS’s that were borrowed from the local Blockbuster….well you can honestly see why this genre speaks to me at times on the level that it does. Yet for all the passion and fondness that I have for this distinct genre, there is a trade-off. Namely that there are only some horror films in my life that have been able to genuinely terrify me. Oh don’t get me wrong: I do enjoy them, but not because they are scary. Rather, it’s because they are the finest kind of “stupid entertaining” put to celluloid. Thankfully, I can safely say that The Babadook is most assuredly not a stupid entertaining slice of horror cinema…..something that I say as I desperately try to calm down the hairs on the back of my neck. Indeed, if the last part of that sentence didn’t kinda sorta clue you in dear reader, here is a film that I feel will not only stay with you for quite a long time, but that will also really make you continuously and fearfully look in the shadows that you encounter on a daily basis just to be sure there is nothing contained within them. Suffice it to say that The Babadook is a phenomenally made on both sides of the camera slice of horror cinema with genuine emotion to it. More than that however, it is also a wonderful ode to a style of horror that, at the time of this film’s initial release, had been in hiding for way too long. Yes, I am aware that the marketing may have you thinking this is some kind of creature flick, but this is definitely more in the vein of something resembling The Innocents. As a result, you should know that the real terror of this film isn’t what we are shown, but rather what we aren’t. Even with that in mind though, there is no denying that The Babadook is more than just psychological horror at its best. Rather, it’s genuine proof of how fantastically nightmarish horror cinema can be when made with style and class and I wouldn’t have it any other way. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Babadook a solid 4 out of 5.