As a rule, I don’t like horror movies. It’s not because I don’t like being scared, I really do, but because horror movies are rarely scary. These days they tend to just be violent and gory, and wincing isn’t a sufficiently strong enough reaction to inspire me to watch something. If I want to be scared I’ll watch a David Lynch movie or some weird old foreign thing I find on YouTube.
But ‘Babadook’, genuinely scared the crap out of me.
Amelia (Essie Davis) a nurse, still struggles to cope with her grief over the tragic death of her husband six years ago. Her personal problems are aggravated by the fact the their son, Samuel, with a habit for making weapons and anti-social behaviour is a bit of a nutjob (and like all proper weirdos he is also very into stage magic).
As Samuel’s bad behaviour and Amelia’s inability to cope reach an apex, a mysterious children’s book appears in Samuel’s bedroom one evening. This book is about a grizzly creature called the Babadook.
I won’t say anything more about the plot as some of you will probably moan about spoilers, but suffice to say the Babadook develops into a rather nasty apparition intent on exacting some serious bloody violence on the household.
‘Babadook’ is an extremely impressive film, laced with that unsettling oddness peculiar to our Antipodean friends,combining the banal and everyday, with the fantastic and grotesque while also producing some genuinely funny moments of character and family. Meaning I would lurch from literally watching through my fingers in fear (I spent most of the film that way) to full on belly laughing.
Like most horror films ‘Babadook’ is an expressionist piece, and one that absolutely revels in its influences. For instance the family home, so dull grey and muted, reflects not only the flat and depressing life of Amelia but also reminds me of the painted light used on the sets of ‘The Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ the nightmarish german horror from 1920.
Then there are scenes of Amelia’s sedative induced trances, which hark back to ‘Requiem for a Dream’ by Darren Aronofsky’s a master of modern expressionism. None of this referencing is distracting, it’s just there to give those of us who give a damn a little thrill.
My only slight quibbles about ‘The Babadook’, are the moments when we see the Babadook in full, I caught a fleeting glance of him through my fingers as he crept across the ceiling and he looked a bit hokey, cheap even. it is not necessary his full appearance, especially when its rendered in cut price CGI. I would rather just see glimpses , it is so more effective, everyone knows that!
Also young Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman is a bit grating but he is playing a very strange kid, it might be that he just played the role too damn well.
Which, is definitely the case for Essie Davis, in equal amounts she made me want to laugh, cry and run like the clappers, as she runs around, knife in hand screaming obscenities. A wonderful performance, which will no doubt lead to the rest of the world seeing a lot more of her.
If not for the slightly iffy effects I would put the ‘The Babdook’ in my very small draw of perfect films, that include ‘Withnail and I’, ‘Some Like it Hot’ and ‘The Man Who Would be King’, all very different but each one a stone cold classic.
If you see one film between now and New Year, you would be doing yourself a favour if you pick this one, even if you don’t like horror.
The Babadook is in UK cinemas now