12.02.2014

The Babadook (2014)

I watched Jennifer Kent's mind-blowing The Babadook (2014) last night. What a stunning narrative achievement. I awoke today with an unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach and an intense urge to hold my daughter and assure her that her world is safe. 

This is a creature feature, to be sure, but it's also an intense examination of the nature of grief and loss, and the tenuous connections of family. Essie Davis delivers the performance of the year. Alternating between vulnerability and sheer, raw anger and purple hatred, I'm stunned by how versatile and talented this actor is. She plays exhausted more convincingly than I've seen in any film since Bale delivered the previous gold standard in The Machinist, and her ability to emote in the third act just pulled chill after chill out of me.

Those shrieks...my goodness!

This one certainly builds a sustained tension. It's a throwback to films like Rosemary's Baby, with its extended, dreamlike television montages and careful build toward the big revelations. Without spoiling the film, I'll just say that the monster's appearance itself is conservative and, while scary, Mister Babadook is not nearly as harrowing as the family dynamics playing out between mother and son.

The film works against categorization, and the hints are as meticulously placed as in any horror film since The Sixth Sense. Sure, it satisfies Chris Booker's "overcoming the monster" plot pattern, but it's also a keen examination of Jung's shadow archetype. In that sense, it really plumbs the depths of the monsters inside all of us--of those repressed (suppressed) urges and instincts that gather in the trenches of the human psyche.

One of Kent's finest accomplishments here is the juxtaposition of power between mother and son. There is a moment, right around the thirty-minute mark, when we see Sam's characterization shift.

"He always speaks plainly," their neighbor, Grace Roach says twice. And indeed, despite his portrayal as a child out of control, it's Sam that keenly notices the changes in their barren, joyless home life. 

"I love you, Mom," he says in one telling scene.

"Me too," she replies, which might say more about what she's doing with that basement than any other aspect of the film.

Noah Wiseman was superb in his portrayal of Sam. The scene in the back of the station wagon will make your heart leap up into your throat. Seeing your child in that state...sheesh! 

Both of my sisters suffered from frequent seizures in our childhood. I've never forgotten that sense of utter and total loss of control.

This is a film I will probably watch again this evening, hopefully with my wife. I can't recommend it enough, both as the scariest film that I've seen since The Exorcist III, and as the best film of 2014. 

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