The Babadook (2014)

(Wikipedia)

You guys remember that commercial with the guy and the kid in the grocery store, and the kid’s freaking out and throwing a tantrum and just being so awful, and it turns out it’s a condom commercial? That was funny.

The Babadook is, for most of its length, a totally not-funny version of that commercial. I sort of found myself hoping that the monster would eat the kid, just so I wouldn’t have to suffer through his crap anymore.

Oh, right, so, there’s a single mom, Amelia, and her kid Samuel, and they live in a big old house by themselves, because dad died years before. Samuel has “behavioral problems,” which could mean anything, but in this case it means he’s just suuuuuuuper annoying (I’m not being insensitive, this is a major plot point), and also a little bit violent. His harried mother hasn’t slept well in months, and is nearing her breaking point with Samuel’s clingy-tantrum-violence mood cycle.

One night, Samuel chooses a book for his mom to read him at bedtime, and it’s a big creepy pop-up book featuring an Edward Gorey-ish fellow called the Babadook, who apparently will appear and do random scary things, once you, you know, read his book, I guess. So Amelia reads it and, yep, scary stuff happens.

The first big chunk of the movie is solid. “Economical” may not sound like a flattering term, but when I call Babadook economical I mean it as a good thing. It manages to convey a ton of information in a very short time through the most minimalistic shots and interactions between actors. It’s slick and polished and sets up the dynamic between the main characters quickly and smoothly and believably. Essie Davis is great as Amelia, a frazzled and nearly broken single mom really trying to do her best with a problem child. And Noah Wiseman‘s a great problem child.

Use. Condoms.

Use. Condoms.

But aside from the polished presentation, The Babadook is a very formulaic horror film. The scary stuff starts happening and Amelia immediately denies it, until she can’t deny it anymore; then some ambiguity is introduced–is it supernatural? is it in her head? was she Tyler Durden all along?–and finally there’s a sort of showdown which kind of resolves everything, but of course doesn’t really because this is horror.

There’s actually not a great deal more to say. The Babadook is a horror movie, and it has a monster and some other fun stuff. It’s not as fantastic as the hype led me to believe it would be, but it’s worth a watch, and I’d like to see more from writer/director Jennifer Kent.

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