Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Babadook (2014)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Directed and Written by Jennifer Kent

Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, and Bejamin Winspear.

Summary: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

In the tradition of movies like Turn of the Screw (any version), The Amityville Horror, and, yes, The Shining, The Babadook gives us a look at parenthood through the eyes of madness. Only the madness here may in fact just might be a monster. That's the challenge for the viewer--to watch the breakdown of Amelia as her six-year old child, Samuel, drives her out of her mind. But I get ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Let me also add that SPOILERS may follow regarding the supernatural element of the film, but it's inherent to my critique to reveal the role of Mister Babadook. So, yes, the Babadook is real, but knowing this does in no way affect any future viewing of the movie as that ending takes us beyond the parenting metaphor. 

The film opens with tragedy. Amelia's husband is killed in an accident; she is left to raise her hyperactive child Samuel by herself. The director Kent focuses on Amelia's tics and twitches as she suppresses her desire to yell at or strike Samuel who is incessant with his need for attention. One night Amelia finds a book on the shelf that wasn't there before. For his nighty-time reading, he wants mommy to read Mr. Babadook to him. Even as the book grows more horrific and terrifying (Samuel latches onto his mother in terror), Amelia reads on oblivious to her son's reaction. Basically, the book is the pronouncement of the Babadook's arrival. Amelia just sees the book as curious, but Samuel understands that an evil force has been set loose.

But the poor viewer sees the story through the depressed mother's eyes as her life falls apart around her, while Samuel must convince his mother that they must prepare to fight Mr. Babadook; he pleads: "Take care of me, mommy, and I'll take care of you." The precocious boy has a gift for building clever and deadly weapons, which get him in trouble at school, but come in handy when the "demon" makes his appearance. But don't get me wrong. We don't see the demon. We see mommy gone mad. She now yells at Samuel and imagines cutting his throat. 

However, once the focus shifts to Samuel, we see a different movie, which brings us to the crucial scene of the movie when Amelia actually sees the Babadook in its "outer" form. It is after this scene that we watch Samuel become less hyperactive and more fearful of mommy, although he continues to promise that he won't let the Babadook take her. Which brings us to mommy's tics and such. Amelia has a loose tooth that bothers her throughout the movie. When stressed, she grinds her teeth, thus aggravating the bad molar. She also has a habit of avoiding scary sounds by slipping under the blanket when readying to sleep. Suddenly, it's morning. Very creepy. 

These tics are important because they lead the viewer to sympathize with her predicament with the misbehaving boy. He screams, he destroys property, he hurts other children. His mother has no where to turn for help. Or so it seems. Neighbors and others offer help, but her guilt convinces her that she must suffer her son's misbehavior alone. This opens the door for Mr. Babadook to be let in. Note in the mysterious book the words: LET ME IN! In essence, Amelia seems to be fighting her own fragile restraint, for she too suffers the loss of her husband just as Samuel overcompensates for his mother's attention because of the loss of his father.

It's those TV images, though, that really reflect the state of Amelia's mind. At first there are those gory nature documentaries that flash by as she channel surfs, then the surreal cartoons from the 1920s, you know, the ones where inanimate objects come to life, such as the face of the moon. After that crucial scene, however, the TV images take a darker turn. Remember the movie Black Sabbath, the Mario Bava classic? Well, Amelia watches that infamous scene from "The Drop of Water", where the dead woman rises from her bed to get back her ring. Director Jennifer Kent picks just the right images to unnerve the viewer while showing Amelia slowly going mad. But as I pointed out in the spoiler earlier, these images are the work of the Babadook. Very layered story-telling at work here.

The final battle with the evil force is also a metaphor for Amelia's regaining control of her own senses and restraining her anger and impatience to be a better parent to her child. But what is that thing in the cellar that she too must control? Is it a manifestation of her own dark side? Well, if you were paying attention, you know that it's the "inner" Babadook that the book warned us about early on in the movie. Without the demonic presence, this is basically the story of a single parent trying to raise a troubled child in need of attention after the loss of his father, but with the demonic Mr. Babadook added to the story, we have a Horror movie that scares you out of your wits without the need for jump-scares. Best Horror Movie of 2014.   

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