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Film review: "The Babadook"

Updated on April 23, 2016

Fun Facts:

* Director Jennifer Kent had no prior experience in making films nor went to film school. She was previously an actress.

* The film ran on a budget of 2 million, most of which are funded by government bodies.

* The pop up book was handmade by artist Alexander Juhaz, multi-award winning designer.

* A sum of four books were used throughout the filming process.

* The Babadook's designs were inspired by films of the 1920's-1930's.

* To keep Noah safe, the Babadook was locked away at the end of every filming session.

The Babadook:

Director: Jennifer Kent

Producers:

Kristina Ceyton

Kristian Moliere

Date released: 2014

Cinematography: Radek Ladczuk

Music: Jed Kurzel

Edited by: Simon njoo

Production company: Causeway Films

Running time: 94 minutes

Budget: $2 million

Box office: $6.7 million

Disturbed by:

Entertainment one

IFC Films

Icon Productions

Cast:

Amelia Vanek played by Essie Davis

Samuel Vanek played by Noah Wiseman

Robbie played by Daniel Henshall

Claire played by Hayley McElhinney

Gracie Roach played by Barbara West

Oskar Vanek played by Benjamin Winspear

Prue Cathy played by Adamek

Warren played by Craig Behenna

Sergeant played by Adam Morgan

Mother #2 played by Peta Shannon

Bugsy played by Hachi

Development:

The director (Jennifer Kent) studied at NIDA and graduated in 1991. She then worked as an actor in the film industry for over two decades. She lost her passion for acting and asked director Lars Von Tier if he would let her help with the film set in Dogville but also to learn from him. She learned the importance of being stubborn while she attended film school.

She finished a short film called "Monster" and an episode in "Two Twisted."

Since then, she began worked on the screenplay in 2009 about facing ourselves, the "fear of going mad", and an exploration of parenting. In 2010, she explained "Now, I'm not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women." She stated it was important for both characters to love and be loved so that the audience could have compassion for them. She completed five drafts of the script.

She drew from her experiences in Dogville and tried assembling a production team for her film "the Babadook" but could not find suitable members. She hired Radek Ladczuk, director of photography, and Alexander Juhasz, an american illustrator. Jennifer Kent cited influences from "The Thing", "Halloween", "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", "Carnival of Souls", "Eyes without a face", "The Shining", "Vampyr", "Nosferatu", and "let the right one in." She was forced to reduce her total budget but producer Kristina Ceyton secured $2.5 million but still needed more money for the construction of the film sets. Kristina Ceyton launched a kickstarter fundraising campaign and received $30,071.

Filming:

The film was shot in Australia with most interior shots filmed on the soundstage in the Australian city as the funding was from the South Australian state government. However she explained she was not patriotic though this was a requirement.

Jennifer Kent described the filming process as stressful due to Wiseman's age. She explained ".. I really had to be focused. We needed double the time we had." Wiseman's mom

Amelia Vanek:

A widowed mother after her husband, Oskar, died in a car crash, Amelia Vanek struggles to raise her son Samuel alone. She is soon faced with all sorts of problems that test her loyalty and love to her child.

Samuel Vanek:

Son of Amelia. He is bright and has an awareness that most characters don't have. He is preoccupied with haunting images of an imaginary monster in which Amelia takes concern.

Robbie:

Amelia's friend who takes interest in her and concern with her personal problems. He foresees problems with Samuel during the plot.

Claire:

Amelia's sister who fears Samuel Vanek and tends to be weary of him. She has a good standing with Amelia until she senses a strange aura in her presence.

Mrs. Roach

She is Amelia's next door neighbor and maintains a supportive friendship with her. She is also caring of Samuel and his well-being.

Direction:

I was intrigued by how the film began - with mystery and curiosity. Unlike most films, the Babadook begins by focusing on the mother's internal conflict. It then slowly progresses to the introduction of characters. After that, the movie then moves at a very slow pace which is ideal for a film bent on inducing terror. Gradually, every scene was carefully placed in such a way that leaves you confused and attempting to predict what will happen next.

Cinematography:

Originally, Jennifer Kent wanted the film to be black and white to make a heightened feel that is still believable. She was influenced by pre-1950's B-grade horror films as it was very theatrical as well as "visually beautiful and terrifying." She later lost the idea and worked with production designer Alex Holmes and Radek to create a very "cool and claustrophobic." The film's final color scheme was achieved without the use of gels on the camera lenses or any alterations during the post-filming stage. She took influences from David Lynch and Roman Polanski.

The film relies mostly on face shots and shots from the ceiling. It also does a very great job at delivering camera shots at various angles as opposed to only face shots like most films do. This gives a natural feel and allows viewers to be absorbed into it.


The Writing:

At the time, Noah Wiseman was focused on spending time with the actors, bonding, and playing games. Jennifer Kent gave a "softer" script reading to Noah Wiseman due to his age. He was protected during the filming process. She explained "During the reverse shots where Amelia was abusing Sam verbally, we had Essie [Davis] yell at an adult stand-in on his knees. I didn't want to destroy a childhood to make this film—that wouldn't be fair...to her credit, she's [Davis] very receptive, likes to be directed and is a joy to work with."

Overall, the script and dialogue were natural at the beginning. However as the chaos ensues, the mother and son's dialogue undergoes some bizarre changes. It's as if they are attempting to make everything normal. As for the characterization, every character was in some way connected with one another. What also made the film's dialogue suspenseful was the use of body language and action. The characters also undergo physical changes as the dialogue and characterization changes from normal to maniacal. Overall, the characterization showed the gloomy and dark depths of human nature.

The Set Design:

A Victorian-terrace style house was specifically built for the film as very few styles existed in Adelaide South Australia.

The set is overall very well designed suiting a grim and gloomy mood. As we escape the peaceful outdoors and enter into the house, we experience the dark depressing atmosphere of a mother struggling to raise her son. Looking at the house made me feel uncomfortable as if a presence lingered there in wait. Regardless of the sunshine, there is darkness deep down.


Editing:

To intensify fear, Jennifer Kent used stop-motion effects for the monster and much smoothing in post-production. I would have believed that the monster was frighteningly played by a man in a costume had i not known this fact.

Soundtrack:

One of the most interesting observations of the film was that it did not require much scary music to make the audience terrified. Many of the sounds in the set such as a door cracking open, loud noises, heavy breathing, and so forth in themselves create suspense in viewers. These noises were so chilling, they brought back my childhood fears.

"I wanted to create a myth in a domestic setting. And even though it happened to be in some strange suburb in Australia somewhere, it could have been anywhere. I guess part of that is creating a world that wasn't particularly Australian ... I'm very happy, actually, that it doesn't feel particularly Australian."

— Jennifer Kent

Costume design:

The costume designs are perfectly fit for the film. Each person is dressed properly for each situation. What was most disturbing was how quickly each main character's physical appearance changed. The make up and other props showed how chaotic the conflict has become.

This film is centered around the conflicts of raising a child as a single parent. The symbolism illustrates our innermost fears and darkness. The horrors come not from boogeymen or killers, but from ourselves. The film tackles the problems of grief, sorrow, love, remorse, and selfishness. The message of the film is one of commitment. It demonstrates to us that the only way we break free from the hell we've created: We must let go of the past, value the present, and build a better future.

I watched the Babadook expecting nothing more than your average cheap jump-scare film. My expectations were completely blown away as my perspective of the horror genre changed forever.

The plot centers around a single mother who struggles to raise her son as a single parent. Her husband was killed in a car crash and she's left with a son tormented by a monster she deems imaginary. She soon discovers a sinister force at work around her.

This film is a masterpiece relying on psychological terror, disturbing symbolism, and supernatural atmosphere. It takes the innocence of nursery rhymes and perverts them, transforming them into tools of terror. The scenes destroy our naive perceptions that only children are afraid of monsters lurking beneath their beds. We realize that the frightened child within each of us is revealed as our bedroom door opens. We refuse to face the reality so we cover our eyes and pretend the truth doesn't exist. Nevertheless the monster lurking in the shadows calls and we hear it's screeching mischievous voice. We can feel it's eerie presence and see it's dreadful features during the bedroom scene. This is what the single mother experienced and it is what we experience as it's projected from the screen.

The mother's actions become almost irredeemable but understandable. After all, she's a single parent. Though she has good intentions for her son, there's a breaking point. She gradually sees her son as a burden instead of her precious child. As the story goes on, we see her personality change when Samuel begins to dominate her. We see her inner fears and frightening form take place. We see what she's capable of and what her son knows that she doesn't. When it seems all hope is lost in her hallucinations of murder, she is unaware that her son becomes the catalyst for her redemption.

As for the ending of the film, i was utterly shocked that it broke traditional roles. Neither good nor evil ultimately triumph in the end. As Amelia regains self control, she doesn't utterly vanquish the Babadook as we can never destroy the horrors lurking in ourselves. As for why this is so, i believe it's important to analyze the Babadook's nature. We don't actually know what the Babadook is. It's subject to our own interpretations whether it is physical or metaphorical. In my opinion, the Babadook monster is the soul of the father. He becomes a monster because he wanted Amelia all to himself. If you recall in the scene where he orders her to kill Samuel, she is forced to choose between Samuel or her husband.

I recommend this horror film for anyone seeking suspense, symbolism, disturbing imagery, plot and character development. It goes down in history as one of the most revolutionary films in the horror genre.

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