Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Video Vault: The Babadook

By Shawn K. Inlow

The Babadook
2014 - Jennifer Kent
93 minutes - Unrated
Vault Rating: 8

Here is a charming, chilling little first feature by writer / director Jennifer Kent that does honor to a genre that has gone to the dogs of torture-porn for nearly a generation.

Oh, the horror genre has had gasps of life.  The found footage approach of "The Blair Witch Project" was interesting and the way "Paranormal Activity" allowed the audience ramp up their own tension was nice.  But, by and large, the "Hostels" and the "Saws" and the "Friday the Centipede Umpteenth" have cut the soul out of genuine horror and removed the thrill from thrillers.

Until now.

Here is a genuinely good story about a single mother (Essie Davis as Amelia) dealing with her grade-school aged son (the wonderfully goggle-eyed Noah Wiseman as Samuel) whose obsession with the classic monster-under-the-bed theme takes on alarming proportions.  There is something very wrong with her son, and what, to any parent, is more unsettling than that?

The boy's compulsion takes off from the cleverly constructed children's pop-up book of the title that introduces a shadowy, top-hatted figure.  Page by page, however, the book turns more and more alarming until Amelia attempts to destroy it.  When the book re-appears we begin to get that feeling that we have slipped into that uneasy place between the supernatural and lunatic.

The boy's disturbed fear makes us queasy and his mother's anxiety over it doesn't help a bit.  While a palpable fear begins to clot and manifest itself we know this:  Amelia better not let the Babadook in.

But you should.  How nice it is to see a satisfying horror film with a quality story behind it that naturally drives the outcome!  I got chills, I tell you.  Three times.  And by the film's end, my mood was surprisingly lifted.  How many times have you watched one of the modern blood-spattered gross-outs only to be left sitting there feeling cheated?

Oh, I remember a time when horror movies were fun!  "House on Haunted Hill" and "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price come to mind, not that these films have anything in common, or "The Birds."  "The Babadook" transported me back to a time when the genre really had something to offer.

And the ending?  At first, I thought it was kind of a cop out, but then, when I thought about it, I realized how perfect it was.  How mischievously right it was.  Because we all have our monsters under the bed, don't we?  And if you dare...  You should have a look.

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