This doesn’t seem to be the year for independent horror. My second helping of low-budget horror has proven to be just as disappointing as the first – but, I can at least say that It Follows had atmosphere, and knew how to use it.
Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook started very slowly, and from the first plot point, I knew there would be trouble. Not the good kind of trouble where the characters are discovering that all is not as it seems. No. This kind of trouble was the bad kind of trouble, where the film made nearly no logical sense and the characters began their sludge through a story that gave them no benefit of the doubt, forcing them to do things that any sane person would never do.
As a brief synopsis, the film follows Essie Davis as Amelia, a young mother still grieving the loss of her husband from seven years earlier. She lives alone with her seven year old son, Samuel, played by the obnoxious Noah Wiseman who, you guessed it, was born on the same night that his father died in a car crash bringing Amelia to the hospital. There are other ancillary characters, but they really aren’t important enough to mention. All they really do is put down this mother at the end of her rope and give us a reason to sympathize with her. Nobody comes to this woman’s aid, and when they do, they are gone in a flash.
Most of the trouble stems from Samuel, as does most of the derivative plot. Samuel is at the age where children are afraid of the boogeyman and what horrors lurk in the dark closet – except, if I recall correctly, when I was plagued with nightmares as a child, I didn’t constantly bring up the horrifying monsters in broad daylight. I left them for the night hours, hoping that they wouldn’t appear. Samuel, on the other hand, spouts non-stop dialogue about monsters and protecting his mother from them. Only he can see them, so he fashions projectile weapons out of random objects to fight. This leads nowhere.
At one point in the film, Samuel is in a shouting match with his mother, and he says, “You won’t even let me have a dad!” Doesn’t a child who believes in the reality of monsters understand that dead is dead? Amelia didn’t force her husband to die and abandon her with Samuel. Goodness knows she could use all the help she can get.
Around the half hour mark (or what felt like it), things finally get interesting, albeit in a very forced way. It is time for Samuel to hear his bedtime story and go to bed. Tonight is his night to pick out the book, so he pulls a generic red pop-up into bed with him and hands it to his mother. When she asks where it came from, he says he found it on the shelf with the rest. Amelia shrugs it off and begins reading of the Babadook, a black figure with white eyes and sharp teeth who wears a top hat and comes to eat your insides – or so Samuel describes.
Now, forgive me. I know that for horror we are expected to extend our disbelief, but, what parent doesn’t know every book on their seven year old child’s shelf? If my son handed me a book that was creepy as hell and I didn’t know where it came from – no library sticker, no price on the back, etc. – it would be going in the trash immediately.
But, in this movie, things take a long time. The book isn’t burned until much later, and even then, it comes back. It isn’t until the halfway mark that we see the Babadook, and it is a fleeting image, to be sure. The film is more concerned with showing us constant barrages of Samuel screaming, “Mom! Mommy! Moooommmm!” to get the exhausted Amelia’s attention. There is, no joke, a thirty second scene where Samuel is in the back seat of the car and he screams non-stop, claiming that there is a monster sitting beside him. I wanted to throw him out the window!
That was my biggest gripe with the film. If the plot is resting on this child’s safety, then we need to care about Samuel. Instead, he was so annoying that I just wanted him to be eaten so that Amelia could go on living and perhaps find some new love to replace her dead husband. This is teased at with her attractive co-worker, but sadly nothing comes of it.
If you’re looking for a monster mash, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a heavy-handed parable about the horrors of child rearing, then this might be your golden ticket. I think a lot of the problems in this film would have been solved if Amelia had just given her son a night light.