Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
The Babadook

Title: The Babadook

Finally, A Big Screen Bio Of Gary Dell'Abate. You're thinking of Baba Booey, who is only slightly less terrifying.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Four-and-a-half bunyips out of five

Brief Plot Synopsis: Monster infiltrates home to terrorize occupants via a sinister book, kind of like the Mormons.

Tagline: "You can't get rid of the Babadook."

Better Tagline: "The life of a single mom is always intense."

Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Amelia's (Essie Davis) husband died when they were in a car accident on the way to the hospital so she could give birth to their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). That was six years ago, and while Amelia is (barely) keeping it together, Samuel has grown into something of a problem child, one who now claims a monster has taken up residence in their house.

"Critical" Analysis: The Land Down Under has never gotten a ton of respect for its horror movies, which tend to sift into two categories: Giant Predators Attack (Rogue, The Reef, Black Water), and Rubbed Out in the Outback (Wolf Creek, Long Weekend). Still, sprinkled amongst the giant crocodiles and machete killers have been genuinely disturbing efforts like Picnic at Hanging Rock and iSOLATE.

The Babadook deserves some recognition, not just for regional acclaim but for being one of the most accomplished horror movies in recent memory. Thanks to its deft melding of psychological and physical terror, as well as its unwillingness to rely on cheap tricks in favor of building atmosphere and dread right from the opening scene, Jennifer Kent's debut feature is a triumph.

It's also scary as hell.

The approach is part of what makes Kent's film (she wrote and directed) so effective. A great deal of American horror — from Poltergeist or The Conjuring — relies on threats to the nuclear family. Here, that family never had a chance to materialize, killed as it was before Samuel could even leave the womb. For seven years Amelia has been dealing with both the stress of being a single mother and the gut-wrenching loss of her husband. It'd be enough to leave anyone a bit ... unhinged.

Add to that Ameila's guilt at wanting another relationship, and the desperation coming from raising a troubled child alone, and perhaps the appearance of a creepy pop-up book may not be the only thing causing her to lose her grip. Indeed, everyone from her sister to the police she reports the increasingly frequent disturbing incidents to are skeptical. Could she be hallucinating that swarm of cockroaches, or the leering figure lurking in the shadows?

Kent relies on organic sight and sound — shadows and gloom combined with sparse noise effects — to keep us on our toes. And the often oppressive silence is much more effective than hammy orchestral cues or shrieking violins helpfully telling the audience when it's time to shit their pants. As mentioned before, you get scared early on and the tension doesn't let up for the entire running time.

Hinging as it mostly does on only two principals, The Babadook would be sunk by lesser performances. Fortunately both Wiseman (looking like a young Angus Young) and Davis are up to the task. I have no idea if Davis actually has kids, but one possible (and plausible) interpretation of this movie is as an extended metaphor for sleep deprivation resulting from having children.

In the end, it doesn't matter if the Babadook is real or merely a manifestation of Amelia's guilt (and the final scene, ripe with subtext, suggests either possibility). This is a horror movie as harrowing as anything we've seen from directors who've been in the business for decades. Make an effort to check it out. Or hey, maybe see it with your mom.

The Babadook is in theaters today. Dook. Dook. Dook.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar