Weekly Watch: ‘The Babadook’
Adam Ramos | Sunday, January 25, 2015
I get it, horror movies aren’t for everyone. When a group of friends watches a horror movie, there is inevitably one friend who spends the entirety of the movie nervously playing on his phone or hiding behind a couch pillow. And while I myself enjoy a good scare from time to time, I sympathize with all you pillow-hiders. It seems nowadays the horror genre as a whole has begun saturating itself with pop-ups, gross outs and disturbing imagery at the expense of the essential components that make movies enriching experiences. Fortunately we have this week’s weekly watch, “The Babadook,” a horror movie that’s scary yet smart with a very powerful takeaway.
A 2014 Sundance Film Festival standout, “The Babadook” is a debut for the Australian writer-director Jennifer Kent. The movie delves deep into the psychological issues surrounding a single mother, played by Essie Davis, struggling with the grief of her husband’s death and her challenging relationship with her overactive problem child, played by Noah Wiseman. The intrinsically disturbing Babadook monster embodies the tribulations that face the small family and begins to systemically terrorize them after being awoken through a dubious children’s book mysteriously found in the young boy’s bookshelf. With long sharp fingers, cold dead eyes and a white painted face, the Babadook monster is straight out of nightmares, leaving the family of two with little hope.
Through intimate dialogue between the son and mother, powerful imagery and laudable acting, “The Babadook” perfectly captures the breakdown of the human psyche. Kent creates a movie in “The Babadook” that, as well as being visually scary, strikes a very disturbing cord on a very primitive level. While there are some scenes showcasing the monster’s disturbing nature, such scenes are not relied on, leaving no anxious waiting for the next monster appearance, as is so common in many recent horror flicks.
Noah Wiseman delivers an impressive performance, and at only seven years old, such a feat is even more praiseworthy. Though much of the drama surrounds the mother, it is Wiseman’s tremendous acting that adds new dimensions to the movie. Despite abuse, both emotional and psychical, Wiseman’s character, Samuel, remains steadfast in his love for his mother. Such love provides another thematic component, making the movie all the more enjoyable.
Wiseman’s character also comes to represent the growing concerns over the apparent “Ritalin generation,” as he becomes medicated after a spell of misbehavior. Wiseman’s transition from the chaotic child he is in the beginning of the movie to the mellowed, altered child he becomes was done flawlessly and represents a unsettling comment on today’s common practice of altering child behaviors through medication.
Yet the major component that lifts “The Babadook” from the sea of mediocrity plaguing the horror genre is the constantly present metaphor of grief and psychological management. By using the Babadook monster as catalysis, Kent is ability to vividly paint the true horrors that really exist. While “The Babadook” may be a bit tame for those looking for constant fright, the message that emerges is certainly worth the small sacrifice. For anyone who has been through or witness to any kind of serious struggle, “The Babadook” will be especially poignant. The madness and degradations of the family crescendo to an extremely powerful ending, and while I won’t ruin anything, I will say it is certainly satisfying, albeit a bit bizarre.
Though “The Babadook” may not be a thrill ride, it a certainly a movie, and a good one at that. “The Babadook” is available on Video on Demand and for streaming on Amazon Video. Make sure you check it out.