Film Review: The Babadook

I’m not usually a fan of horror movies, I’ve never really seen the appeal of intentionally scaring yourself as a form of enjoyment, yet for some reason I have been drawn to The Babadook. Talk of it being a true horror film, the scariest film of modern times and an exquisite example of the genre all sowing the seed of longing to see it; to let it frighten me.

Annoyingly I missed in on the big screen last Halloween and so have had to wait patiently for it to arrive on Bluray. And having now seen it, I can say that in part I think the bigger screen you see it on the better. The safety, the normality of watching it on a television, in an ambient lit room somehow reducing the impact I felt from it. 

Noah Wiseman - The Babadook

However, the simple effect of background glare doesn’t affect my thoughts as much as the film itself. Because, to be honest having waited so patiently for The Babadook, having actually felt a pang of trepidation as I got closer to watching it, having started to question my own logic if it was as scary as I was lead to believe as to why I was so interested in seeing it, I found the film to be a complete mess. To say it’s left me totally disappointed is an understatement.

It is essentially the story of a mother and child haunted by The Babadook, a character in a popup book. And as a result, until bed time, until they start to read the book the film is essentially a character story about the relationship between the mother (Essie Davis) and the son (Noah Wiseman). And that’s where my first problem lies. I truly hate the character portrayed by Wiseman. In the same way I withdrew from Boyhood because of the initial actions of a character, I found the son, Samuel, to be so despicable and infuriating that I was almost wishing The Babadook to arrive in the opening scenes to kill him off so I didn’t have to put up with him any longer.

I truly hate him as a character, and while in part, this hatred, this incessant disobedience and challenging of the boundaries is designed to wind you up, to really get under your skin, rather than annoy me in a positive way, to connect me to the mother with greater strength, it just drove me away from the film, as I became closer and closer to just wanting to shut the brat up.

Essie Davis - The Babadook

Looking past the devil child, credit must go to Essie Davis though because for the large parts of this film she is just stunning. In fact, I spent a huge amount of time wondering how she hasn’t been given more credit in the mainstream awards nominations. During the opening hour of the film she brings to life the relentless psychological torture and emotional sadism of schizophrenic mental destruction in a way that is both haunting and real. You empathise with her, you truly feel her pain, but at the same time you are completely terrified by her. And by what she might do.

And that’s how things went for a long time, a stunning leading performance and an indescribably annoying support, and I truly felt that I had misjudged the film. That it was a very dark, twisted psychological horror, rather than a tradition antagonist stalking. Then The Babadook arrived. Dropped in fleeting, as an illusion, an idea, he is truly terrifying. I felt panic in the pit of my stomach, I was already on edge by the fragility of the characters, by the setting and then suddenly, a simple idea, a look, a word and I was being pushed over the edge. Only for a brief moment, but it was an instant striking of my inner cord, forcing my heart to skip a beat before vanishing. Leaving a lingering feeling of what may be next to come as my pulse slowly started to settle.

The Monster - The Babadook

The problem is though, the film does not follow through with this ability to influence, to scare. And even worse, it changes so dramatically that it destroys all the darkness, all the expectant suffering it creates. It forgets that it’s power is in the fact that it’s bark is worse than it’s bite and so when, without warning, it breaks the illusion and changes tack, moving from cerebral crucifixion to physical existence it loses all the tension, and worse still you relax, you return to feeling safe. No longer in the house, haunted as the characters, it gives you a way out, it turns into a visual film.

I suddenly went from worrying what was around the next corner, or in the next room to withdrawing from the film in a breath of resigned preposterousness. It just takes things too far and becomes too silly. It falls so badly that it almost becomes a cliché of the genre. And by the end, the film had lost so much of it’s grip and hold over me that I almost felt glad it was over.

I really, really wanted the film to scare me. To be as good as I hoped, and the section in the middle is so good that has the strength to smooth over the character cracks at the start, and show you just how much potential The Babadook truly had. Honestly it even had me for a time thinking that I was close to seeing my first ever 10-out-of-10 film; but it’s ending, it’s change of visual idea is so strikingly unnecessary that it’s destroyed all passion and enjoyment in the film. In fact, it removed the connection so much from me to the film that afterwards, I slept absolutely fine. And that’s the worse compliment you can pay any horror film.

6 out of 10 stars (6 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

Comments are closed.