Sunday, January 4, 2015

It's THE BABADOOK

Can you blame this lonely, stressed out, single mother for owning a vibrator?  (I knew that would get your attention.)  Another home run has been hit by the team of Women in Film.  One of my favorite films of last year is the modern-day vampire story, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.  Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed that imaginative, tense and witty thriller about a ruthless Middle Eastern female vampire in a bleak Iranian city who winds up finding romance with a kind human male.  Now out is another thriller that opened last year.  Jennifer Kent wrote and directed the scary Australian import, THE BABADOOK.  Mister Babadook is a boogie man character in a children's tale.  He may be that spooky make-believe character kids think could hide under their beds at night.  In this movie which focuses on a suburban widowed mother and her only child, we start to feel that The Babadook is not so make-believe after all.  There's something very creepy here.
This is a mighty fine psychological fright movie -- like those three excellent features The Haunting (1963),  The Innocents (1961) starring Deborah Kerr and the Spanish film, The Orphanage (2007).  It has your mind racing.

This feature, like A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is an economic and very effective film.  A small, tightly-made, low-budget feature, Ms. Kent's film produces big thrills.  Amelia, the mother, and her sensitive little boy, Samuel, live in a big neighborhood house.  The colors are muted, like Amelia's life.  We see no bright, fun colors in the decor.  You do see red.  That's the red of the pop-up storybook Amelia reads to Samuel.
The story scares him.  He's lost his father.  He doesn't want to lose his mother to a monster.  She reassures Samuel that it's just a storybook character.  There are problems with him.  He's a loving kid, but he appears to be sickly.  Maybe in need of medication.  He's picked on by other kids.  He deeply misses having a dad.
Amelia is lonely and still in a state of grief depression, seven years after the untimely death of her handsome husband.  Her snobby girlfriends are tired of her.  Notice their muted colors, too, at a children's birthday party.  They're dressed like they're at a company board meeting.

Strange things begin to happen at Amelia's home.  Things go bump in the night.  Amelia proves to her son and the dog that there's no boogie man under the bed.
But strange things happen in daylight hours too.  Strange phone calls.  Her driving gets erratic.

We start to wonder if Samuel is gradually being possessed by The Babadook.
Then we start to wonder if he's okay but his mother has gone crazy from a mental breakdown.  The sleep-deprived, buttoned-up suburban mom turns into a wild woman.  What's as horrible to a little kid as a monster under the bed?  A beloved parent fracturing into a dark personality who scares you.
Then we wonder if they're both okay and the house is possessed by The Babadook.
This is the kind of movie you want to see with black folks in the audience because we will be shouting, "GIRL, you need to run and get the hell out that house now and move to an apartment building!  And take the vibrator with you!"
In the storybook, Mister Babadook looks as though he was inspired by the character Lon Chaney created for his 1927 silent film thriller, London After Midnight (seen below).
I could tell you more but that would dilute the experience of seeing it for yourself.  You know the basic story and its qualities.  I want you to gasp at scenes like I did.

Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman  are terrific as the tormented mother and son.   The Babadook got high praise and recommendations from William Friedkin on Twitter.  He directed a horror classic that also had a single mother, her young child and a malevolent presence possessing their home.  That movie was 1973's The Exorcist. Writer/director Jennifer Kent must be very proud of that praise.  As well she should be.



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