by Camela Thompson
I'm not a horror expert. I didn't go to school for cinematography or screen play writing. When I watch horror movies, I base my assessment first and foremost on how I feel while watching the movie. No matter how masterful the dialogue or beautiful the cinematography, if my gut says no thanks, I can't gush about it. Even if it's critically acclaimed and people I respect rave about it. I've listened to The Last Knock podcast on the topic, and I highly recommend the episode, but I still can't jump into The Babadook fan club. I appreciated their points and agreed with many of them. I'm still baffled by the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
**Spoiler Alert** I would recommend watching the movie and judging for yourself before going forward. I have several spoilers in the following content.
A single mother with a difficult son struggles with making ends meet and the shadow cast by her deceased husband. Things go from horrible to worse when a strange book is opened and read, unleashing a monster in their home.
What Worked for Me
The cinematography is beautiful and the dialogue fantastic. The characters are limited in number but strong in showing. The mother was someone I could sympathize with, and I loved the elderly neighbor. The movie kept me guessing until the end. I wasn't sure whether I was looking at a rift on The Others or a haunting or something new. The raw and unflattering picture it offered of motherhood was refreshing. The pace was well done and the music was great. These are all great things. It should be enough, right?
What Didn't Work for Me
Let me start this out with the admission that I have the maternal instincts of a log. I thought the neighbor's squalling infant was an injured cat and searched for said cat for two weeks. My husband still thinks this is hysterical.
The kid was one of the most frightening creatures I've seen in a while, and I don't mean this in a he was scary kind of way. I mean annoying to the point of pressing pillows to my ears to drown out the sound of his screech. He was loud, demanding, and mentally unstable. Screaming tantrums. Constructing weapons and pushing children out of tree houses a la The Good Son. He was a great actor, but I spent half of the movie wondering how the two hadn't headlined as a tragic case in the paper, which spurred on my belief that we were looking at a remake of The Others. The extent to which I did not like first-half-of-movie-child made me uncomfortable because I was imagining terrible scenarios. When the mother yelled, "Why can't you just be normal?" My thoughts were: "Oh My God, right???" and "Well, the little bastard needs therapy anyways. Why not? You tell him!"
The switch in the child when the mother lost her sh*t would have been effective if there had been a transformation when the Babadook first entered the picture. I thought it was cool the kid defied our expectations and rose to the challenge, but I couldn't believe it. Early movie kid didn't have redeeming qualities to make me suspect he would be capable of a transition that involved real feelings. Murder, sure. Rising above his mother's fall and spurring her love to drive out the creature? No way.
The final straw was the taming of the Babadook. Who knew he would make a creepy but beloved addition to the household? I see the metaphor for grief. It was obvious. But why do you have to feed it worms?
And there's the family dog. I get it. It's a very effective illustration of just how far the "infected" person has devolved, but I'm tired of it. Every. Single. Time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars.
Maybe I'll watch it again and glean some insight I missed in the first go around. I didn't like how the movie made me feel (imagining bad things happening to a kid is disturbing), but I can't dock a movie for creating a strong emotional response. The ending was the biggest disappointment, feelings aside.
I do appreciate that it's created and directed by a woman, which is a rare feat in the horror industry. We need more of that, but it doesn't mean I'm judging this any differently than the next film.
I left The Babadook frustrated. If you liked it, I'm happy for you. What was it that I missed?
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.