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The Babadook – film review

May 22, 2014

THE BABADOOK

Somewhat creepy – but ultimately forgettable.

Reviewed on Monday 5th May 2014

babadook

Written & directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear. Running time: 92 mins.

A grieving widow and her six-year-old son find themselves terrorized by a malevolent force which appears to have been foretold in a children’s storybook.

A midnight darling at Sundance this year, The Babadook marks Australian actress-turned-director Jennifer Kent’s feature debut. An extended remake of an earlier ten minute short also written and directed by her in 2005, The Babadook is an okay psychological thriller which tries very hard to be frightening – but falls way short       of its potential as an out-and-out horror film. It begins promisingly enough as an intriguing supernatural horror (similar in tone to The Sixth Sense); introducing creepy elements, but soon falls back on conventional psychological tropes more akin to those found in Kubrick’s The Shining and Polanski’s Repulsion.

There is a nicely-crafted sense of unease which permeates the first half – generated primarily by the disturbing images found in the book itself (the pop-up book is beautifully rendered, by the way; handcrafted with monchromatic illustrations of a long-fingered, top-hatted, open-mawed Mister Hyde-like character; a Victorian-era Freddie Krueger). These are graphic and disturbing images with a visceral impact, which may or may not foreshadow the real-life events to follow. Sadly, the staging and execution of events in the film’s second half never quite matches the intensity of horror found in these illustrations – which is a shame. And there is also an annoying sense of repetition which becomes apparent in the second half – which bogs the film down and makes it feel longer than it actually is.

the babadook storybook image

While clearly expressing an interest in horror, the filmmaker sadly demonstrates little flare for the nuances needed to make it work effectively (as far as creating tension and suspense is concerned). The biggest problem with the film (and major contributor to the lack of suspense) – is the break-neck pacing. Events seem so rushed, and there is so little build-up to the scares – the result is a distinct lack of foreboding     and dread (particularly in the second half). The music score by Jed Kurzel is a     valiant attempt in generating atmosphere and suspense, but falls well short of his understated, yet powerful and dread-filled score for the excellent, if harrowing The Snowtown Murders.

On the positive side, Adelaide’s eastern suburbs are clearly meant to emulate environs seen in The Sixth Sense and have a definite uneasy feel to them. And     the production’s desaturated color (predominantly employing shades of grey in the sets and costumes) nicely mirrors the monochrome graphics found in the storybook. Performance-wise, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman are very good in their roles as mother and son and Daniel Henshall (seen recently as John Bunting in Snowtown) appears as a potential love interest for Davis, but is underutilized and ultimately forgotten in the second half.

While Jennifer Kent’s film is an accomplished debut, with a fascinating premise and strong performances in the leads, The Babadook never quite achieves its potential     as the effective all-out fright-fest it so desperately aspires to be.

2.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Palace-Nova Eastend Cinemas, Adelaide, May 5th 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

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2 Comments
  1. The casting of the cop with huge ears is bad, whilst a trivial issue in the scheme of things, I watched Cool Hand Luke and noticed in a prison drama not one actor or extra with huge ears or large nose or unusual face profile. Obviously the net is not being cast wide enough in Adelaide, when it comes to opportunities.

    • gregory moss permalink

      Haha. You can never have too many big-eared actors in a scene. 🙂

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