Each day during October, Madison Film Guy will post a new mini-review/recommendation/musing on a contemporary or classic horror film to help celebrate my 31 favorite days of the year: the countdown to Halloween! Today’s film: The Babadook.
The Babadook, 2014
One of the most interesting and inventive horror movies of the last year has been, hands down, Australia’s The Babadook.
Based on her own short film “Monster” (click here to watch “Monster” for free), The Babadook is an intimate little horror film about a difficult child (Sam), an exhausted mother (Amelia), and the demon that haunts them (the B himself). The demon of the title is actually the subject of a sinister popup book, Mister Babadook, which pops up mysteriously in Sam and Amelia’s troubled home one night. When Amelia reads the book to Sam at bedtime, she becomes disturbed by the violence it depicts and the strange resemblance the book has to their home and their life. Amelia tears up the book and throws it away, but if that were the end of the Babadook, then The Babadook wouldn’t be a very interesting film.
The best parts of The Babadook put atmosphere before action and character before carnage. Truth be told, Sam and Amelia don’t need a demonic interloper to make their relationship difficult. The loss of Sam’s dad and the helpless desperation of Amelia’s struggle with single motherhood pose problems aplenty for them, and when Mister Babadook does show up, it is practically a relief in that it gives them a problem that they might actually have a shot at solving. The nuance and maturity with which Kent depicts that difficult relationship creates investment in the characters and ultimately drives the emotional impact of the film.
The Babadook himself—whether viewed on the pages of Mr. Babadook or spied in the background of the frame for just an instant—is a creation of pure nightmare, with an affectionate nod to early horror cinema. Kent has said that she based the look of the creature on Man of a Thousand Faces Lon Chaney’s famous makeup from London After Midnight, the lost film that exists today only in the still photos that represent all that’s left of the film.
Her homage to that 1927 film gives The Babadook a classical feel, suggesting a film that does not belong to this time but that could have come from any number of past eras of horror.
Regardless of where or when it comes from, however, The Babadook succeeds the fundamentals of horror: creeps, screams, and scares.
And once you have that, it’s hard to ask for much more.