Saturday, April 25, 2015

Movie Review - The Babadook

The Babadook (2014)
Starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman
Directed by Jennifer Kent
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

Much hype has been bandied about concerning how scary and frightening debut director and screenwriter Jennifer Kent's horror film The Babadook is and while the it doesn't quite live up to its buzz, it's still a really good film with some absolutely outstanding performances from its two main cast members Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, both of whom elevate this already good production to something absolutely worth seeing.

Although it's been six years since her husband's death, Amelia (Davis) still finds herself grieving him every now and again as she raises her somewhat difficult, rambunctious, and wildly imaginative son Sam (Wiseman).  Already fearful of monsters lurking in the dark, when Sam discovers a new book named The Babadook on his bookshelf, the rather horrific illustrated children's work about a monster who invades a boy's home at night proves to be highly detrimental to the young boy causing a multitude of nightmares and creating a situation wherein he is simply unable to be around classmates or relatives his age without causing harm.  Amelia is forced to medicate young Sam, but upon doing so, she realizes that Sam's imagination and the creature from The Babadook may not be as made up as she formerly believed.

While certainly foreboding, The Babadook admittedly never really scared me.  I wasn't jumping in fright or covering my eyes out of fear.  However, what director Jennifer Kent does create is an atmosphere in which two characters and their traits inspire all the uncomfortableness and unease that one needs in order for a film like this to succeed.  Something as simple and basic as young Sam gritting his teeth while he's sleeping invokes a sense of discomfort in the audience, but also is a simple way of giving us insight into the fact that Sam is perhaps troubled and that Amelia can't even get relief when the young boy is asleep because of the incessant grinding.  These little details elevate The Babadook to a different level than other horror films.

It certainly helps that Kent manages to get fantastic performances from her two main cast members who are essentially onscreen in nearly every scene.  Young Noah Wiseman has his debut performance here and while I've heard some call him "grating" or "obnoxious," I counter that by simply saying, "That's the point."  His Sam is supposed to be wearing his mother down, causing her to question her maternal instincts.  Wiseman captures this completely in the film's opening half and then believably switches gears in the second half when the flick calls for him to retaliate against a rather horrific force.

A star should be born based off of Essie Davis's performance as the beleaguered Amelia.  Coping with her husband's death and the stigma of "widowhood" while dealing with a child who can't give her a moment's respite have obviously taken their toll Amelia and Davis shows us this nonstop and incessant feeling of wear and tear with every fiber of her being.  Underneath the malaise and frustration of dealing with Sam,  Davis always gives us hints that her Amelia truly loves her son, so we never get a sense that she has washed her hands of the boy -- she simply wishes for an easier go at things like her fellow moms are fortunate enough to have.  Once again, much like Wiseman, the script asks Davis to tackle the unenviable task of having her character completely switch gears in the film's second half -- into a role which I'll leave mysteriously undefined -- but Davis is absolutely believable and more than able to achieve this with gusto.

Much like the storybook in the film itself, The Babadook as a movie carries a slight sense of darkened fantasy with it in its production designs and lighting which perhaps lull us into a sense of childlike wonderment, contemplating what is around the corner for our two characters with each turn of the Blu-Ray or dvd chapter list.  I look forward to seeing what else Ms. Kent and her two fantastic actors have up their sleeves in the future.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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