Monday, July 25, 2016

When the Monster in Your Head Knocks on Your Door, or Thoughts on The Babadook

Australia is often mistaken for a sunny England in film, but like the landscape, there’s something wild under the surface, just out of view.  It’s a continent that’s still full of mystery and sometimes monsters, as personified in the unsettling psychological horror of The Babadook (2014).  Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent, her impressive first movie succinctly captures the isolation of depression and also the fears of raising a child on your own.
Australian actor Essie Davis, who you might remember as Maggie from The Matrix: Reloaded (2003), the Lady Crane from Game of Thrones, or Phryne Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries portrays single mom Amelia, with a troubled 6 year-old son who can’t make friends as is into magic.  She’s already haunted, experiencing flashbacks of the car accident that took her husband’s life and the survivor’s guilt she feels towards herself and her son Sam.  She struggles with the resentment she feels towards her Sam, his birthday is the anniversary of his father’s death and his life is a daily reminder of her tragedy.
Into their lonely lives comes Mr. Babadook, a character from a children’s book reminiscent of Edward Gorey that mysteriously shows up on their bookshelf.  He knocks on your door (“dook-dook-dook”) and hides under your bed, and once you let him in, he never leaves.
The movie starts slow, taking the time for the audience to really get to know and care for Amelia and her troubled son.  She’s had more than her share of tragedy, and her daily struggle for survival hasn’t left any spare moments to deal with it.  Her growing frustrations, with her job at the nursing home, her son, and her circumstances is palpable, and overwhelming.  And then Sam starts talking to Mr. Babadook, and insisting that he’s real.
The Babadook, a cloaked figure in a top hat with long fingers and sharp teeth, moves in a shaky stop-motion manner that enhances the surreal and dreamlike qualities of the movie.  The tension and fear is supplied by clever use of sound and editing rather than CGI, and first rate performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman as Sam.
All horror movies play with reality to manipulate fear and evoke terror, the beauty of The Babadook is that it can easily be seen as a portrait of madness; we watch Amelia’s life come undone as her sanity unravels.  The monster outside the door is already living in her head, and in this sense Amelia becomes the Babadook.  Reminiscent of Nicole Kidman in The Others (2001), another movie about a mother battling internal demons along with an external supernatural threat, The Babadook currently holds a rating of 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.



my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4 volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hr diner with the best pie in town…