The Babadook (2014) review and analysis
'A chilling and horrific journey on the grief of a loved one'
From the start till the end, The Babadook (2014) kept me engaged and on my toes despite feeling frightened by the seeping darkness that lurked Amelia (Essie Davis) and her 6 year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Despite being produced on a limited budget (around 2.5 million) and a non prominent cast, writer/director Jennifer Kent and her crew does a wonderful job in utilising her creativity and exceptional cinematography to craft her debut Australian psychological horror film. Drawing inspiration from several 1970’s and 1930’s horror films such as Vampyr (1932), this film is able to stand out over other 2014 horror films such as Ouija and Annabelle due to its ability to rely on a chilling atmosphere and subtle instrumentals to frighten its audience.
The story focuses on a widow named Amelia that is struggling to cope with loss of her husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear). Her husband horrifically died in a car crash while driving towards the hospital where Amelia would give birth to Samuel. She lives in a decrepit house with Samuel who she finds hard to discipline due to his fear of monsters that appear in his dreams combined with his violent approach to try to overcome it. Samuels condition plus the grief puts a lot of strain and stress on her which affects her mentally. Due to this her relationship with external factors such as her son's school and friends and family start to deteriorate as a result.
Her life continues to spiral out of control when she reads a strange book to Samuel that talks about the mythical creature called the ‘Babadook’. Samuel is now assured that this sinister figure is the one he’s been dreaming about and his condition starts to get worse. While Amelia may not believe him at first, she starts to question herself as she begins to capture small glimpses of this sinister figure that lurks in the darkness of the house.
*spoilers ahead, read with caution*
Analysis and Opinion
This Film does a great job in exploring the aspect of an individuals grief over a loved one. The film is able to expand on that aspect by displaying the devastating effects of repressing grief on an individuals subconscious.The film achieves this through the wonderful performance of Essie Davis as she presents the audience a flawed-character who is mentally deteriorating as a result of repressing this grief. This is reflected through her rejection of internal and external factors that causes her to remember her husband. An example is Amelia sense of dislike towards Samuel which is reflected in a scene where she pushed Samuel away when he hugged her. This implies to the audience that she refuses to accept Samuel love towards her. She also doesn't celebrate his birthday for it would remind her of the day her husband died thus bringing back the sorrow inside her. The character design of Amelia helps add to this effect especially the lack of cosmetics and simplistic clothing as I feel It provided a humane element to her character thus making her more relatable towards the audience. It is only when she faces the darkness(babadook) that she has repressed for so long is when she finally finds a way to cope with it.
I was quite impressed by Noah Wiseman performance as Samuel. It was really a believable performance for such a young age at 7 and he was able to draw out key elements of a child such as the innocence and curiosity. But what I found most interesting about Samuel was his undying love for his mother despite her negligence towards him. This is reflected in one scene where he says ‘ I know you don’t love me. The babadook won’t let you, but I love you mum.’ Despite wanting to hate him for the amount of strain he puts on his mother, he made feel me more sympathetic towards his character due to key moments like the one stated above. This emphasis how good the screenplay was in the film for it compels you to sympathise with the characters in the film despite the flaws in their mannerism.
The cinematography was used wonderfully to capture the hallucinations that Amelia and Samuel was experiencing. This is evident through several 3-5 second mid shots of the interior parts of the house such as the staircase and the upstairs hall. The dark shades of blue and brown used in these shots combined with limited lightning helped create a chilling atmosphere that made me feel very unsettling throughout the whole film. This atmosphere helped made a simplistic costume of the ‘Babadook’ much more creepier than what it should be. Another strength of this film was the instrumentals used in the background. This help create the eerie mood by using slow tempo music with a combination of high pitch sounds to create tension and low pitch sounds to signify menace. To combine both the setting and instrumentals really brings out what I loved the most about the film. Instead of relying on constant use of cheap scares to scare the audience, Kent really focused on getting under your skin in order to make you feel uncomfortable and frighten throughout the whole film. While I feel no prominent flaws within the film itself, I do feel there is a little lack of clarity on certain parts of the film such as the origin of the book. There is no conclusive evidence on whether Amelia may have created the book or if it serves as another hallucination that she and Samuel are experiencing, however the strengths of this film were enough to not find this flaw distracting.
Despite the limited resources, theatrical release and no known actors, Jennifer Kent and her great crew were still able to produce the best horror film in 2014 in my opinion. The heavily reliance on setting and extensive imagery helped visually capture the effects of grief on an individual state of mind while providing a chilling and horrific experience. I certainly recommend to get this film in your local stores or online and watch it especially for all horror fans out there.
Summary of Review
What I liked:
- Excellent performance from Essie Davis as she really played her role well especially the way she brought out the raw negative emotions during the second part of the film
- Great script for it surprisingly created several heartwarming moments between the mother and son in a dark film.
- Cinematography was really good despite the limited resources particularly the type of camera shots used to establish the setting.
- exceptional use of instrumentals in creating the eerie tone of the film.
What I hated:
- lack of clarity in some parts of the film such as the origin of the book.
© 2015 Jason C.