The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Babadook

Any true horror buff would have to admit that the genre tends to cannibalize itself. The same cliches are often used time and again, and when something original does come along, everyone else sets out to imitate it. (“Found footage” is just the latest example of this phenomenon.) At the same time, any horror buff would also admit that those original ideas are what we live for. They're always the ones that make the biggest impact. The Babadook arrives in theaters and on VOD riding a wave of buzz, following successful screenings at Sundance and Fantastic Fest. “Original” is a descriptor that certainly applies. There's nothing I can think of to compare it to.

In this Aussie chiller, Essie Davis plays Amelia, a widow whose husband died violently on the night she gave birth to their now six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Because she associates his birth with her husband's death, Amelia has never really bonded with the boy. Not surprisingly, he has some severe behavioral problems, displaying aggression to other children and misbehavior at school. Samuel dreams nightly of a monster, which he believes to be real. Amelia tells him this could not possibly be true. Then a homemade, but beautifully bound, pop-up book mysteriously appears on a shelf. Through dark, disturbing pencil sketches, it tells the story of Mister Babadook, an evil creature who raps on doors and moans “Ba-ba-DOOK-DOOK-DOOK” when he strikes. At first, Amelia dismisses everything, but then Mister Babadook shows up and...well, you'll just have to see from there.

So what's original about the movie? For starters, the visuals. Mister Babadook looks like a pop-up book come to life. If you can't envision that, it's okay, because I can't describe it any better than that. Writer/director Jennifer Kent (remember that name – she's going places) gives only fleeting, shadowy glimpses that make the creature seem convincingly otherworldly. The use of sound is unsettling, too. When Mister Babadook utters his signature call, it's so bizarre and freakish that it literally sends a chill up your spine. He sounds like E.T. after a long night of shooting heroin.

While The Babadook is creepy on a visual/aural level, it's even creepier thematically. Mister Babadook is clearly a metaphor for the kinds of personal demons people can't deal with. Amelia has a dead husband, a son she subconsciously blames for the death, and no patience for her boy's behavioral issues. She is not a bad person, but she's become a bad version of herself. This angry, hurting mother is not who she is, and Mister Babadook is a manifestation of all the shameful feelings swirling around inside of her. In fighting him off, she has to reconcile her own ambivalence about her child. For a horror movie to tackle such deep themes is rare, and it's even rarer for one to do so as chillingly as this one does.

The Babadook is not a horror movie that tries to make you jump out of your seat every five seconds. Instead, it burrows under your skin, continually prodding you with increasingly disturbing ideas. You don't just walk away from this movie; it follows you. Jennifer Kent has made a stunning debut, not just as a horror director, but as a mature filmmaker unafraid of pushing buttons that many others would never even consider pushing.

( 1/2 out of four)

The Babadook is unrated, but contains violence and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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