Friday, October 23, 2015

The Babadook (2014) Review:

There always seems to be a common trend for the horror films that truly scare its audience. Some examples from the past several decades are films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), The Blair Witch Project (1999) and Paranormal Activity (2007). They were all films with meager budgets but received positive reviews critically and box office draws commercially. They also had green lit sequels not many people enjoyed, except for the hardcore followers. There's a subtle difference between making a film independently Vs with the help of a studio. Unless the studio really believes that the director knows what they're doing, most of the time studios will intervene at some point and begin tampering with the director's vision. This leads to cuts, edits, reshoots and changes that most directors do not intend on doing thus fully altering their dream product. Meanwhile for indie filmmakers, directors have a much more limited cabinet of tools such as money (mainly) and resources, yet there's no studio to get involved.

Noah Wiseman & Essie Davis
Making her directorial/screenwriting debut, Jennifer Kent heads this Australian horror film that demonstrates that most horror films continue to be more effective when made independently than working with big budget studios. The story is about a widow named Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) being stalked by an ominous entity known as The Babadook that's making their lives more stressed than it already was. Being that there have been multiple times when films do poorly because the writer to the script was also the director, it's surprising to see how this movie escapes most of those blunders. The majority of the surrounding subplots are presented for the right reasons and help the viewer understand how they affect the main characters. Also the writing barely, if any at all contains the typical horror tropes one would expect to see in your everyday mainstream ghoul flick. One area that stands out as none productive to the plot, is the subplot of Amelia's coworker Robbie (Daniel Henshall) who initially feels like he wants to be with her but it is quickly dropped half way through. Once realized, it didn't feel necessary to begin with.

There's also the case of continuity errors and why some things are left unchecked. Yet, these are things that usually happen in every film and it's not the most abundant here. If there's anything else that doesn't make sense it’s the antagonist's motives. Clearly heard in the movie, the character states "give me the boy", but for what? What's the purpose? Some backstory or mythology would be appreciated for such an iconic figure. This is it for gripes though, the characters are likable and the audience will care for them and the situations they are put into - specifically dealing with sweet neighbors like Mrs. Roach (Barbara West) and the cautious Aunt Claire (Hayley McElhinney). Even The Babadook (played by Tim Purcell) himself is somewhat likable because of just how strange and demonic the character is and how he goes about scaring the living daylights out of this family. The method that The Babadook goes about doing his business is not exactly the newest of things but it certainly is effective.

Initially, The Babadook is introduced via bedtime story book that has pop-up figures and its own little nursery rhyme. However as the pages continue to turn, the images become darker and darker foreshadowing possible events. Mind you that's just the beginning. The Babadook is a creature that loves to play mind games. Its movement is rigid, makes cockroach or cicada-like sounds and its voice is raspy almost like its speech being choked out. The design is also something noteworthy too, resembling that of a scarecrow. The violence is not hefty either. There are a couple moments that look painful but nothing that is on the dismemberment level. Jennifer Kent's direction relies more on scaring her viewers by giving them minimal elements to work with. That includes just seeing things for a moment and then disappearing or focusing on a simple object that may have a bigger purpose. It's those kinds of scenes that can give a viewer chills because of the insecurity that it generates.

The Babadook's book
Radek Ladczuk as the cameraman for this production made good use of his surroundings. The house Amelia and her son live in, is exactly what other characters mention it as - depressing. It's a house of melancholy colors that accentuate the mood and tone of the story ten fold. What's best about Ladczuk's work is treating the camera as if they were eyes. By this, if the camera moves in on a character and a sound is made, the camera stops completely. After a brief pause the camera moves again. It actually creates more tension in the scene. Ladczuk's other method is not moving the camera at all. There are some shots where the lens just focuses on a dark hallway or a shadow of a stairway railing. It gives the feeling that there's something else inside the house. The musical score composed by Jed Kurzel is surprisingly effective even though much of the film is silent. There are some intrinsic tunes provided by thumping timpani and bells. It's a foreboding sound that will definitely create uneasiness. Plus, no jump scare stings!

Rarely do mainstream horror films produce such chills when it comes to ghosts and midnight ghouls, but not here. It's unfortunate that it still has some problems either having a useless subplot or motivations left unexplained but that doesn't stop it in its tracks. With sympathetic characters, an iconic villain, unconventional cinematography, direction and music, this indie horror film surpasses several other horror properties popular studios have exploited.

Points Earned --> 7:10

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