Hype is an interesting beast. When it’s warranted it can make for some amazing movie going experiences. Moments like The Avengers finally working together or the first time you see a dinosaur in Jurassic Park feel a bit more special when it’s something you’re anticipating. Unfortunately the hype isn’t usually warranted. Instead of Batman finally coming out of the shadows we get season 2 of Walking Dead. I bring all this up because of all the horror releases this year The Babadook has been the most hyped up. Review after review at every major festival came back declaring The Babadook as the horror film of the year. Needless to say I was intrigued. With the movie finally getting released the Mrs. and I finally got to see if this really is one of the most frightening films in years. Well….. we’ll get to that.
Years after her husband dies Amelia (Essie Davis) is still struggling. Having never dealt with his death things go bad when 6-year old Samuel starts having nightmares; fearing a monster that will kill them both. Finding a book called The Babadook Samuel is sure that The Babadook is the monster threatening him. When both Samuel and his mother seeing The Babadook it becomes obvious that this is more than just a disturbed child.
While a lot of other movies would fail due to this fairly traditional plot The Babadook actually shines because of it. Instead of trying to subvert expectations writer/director Jennifer Kent embraces the clichés and executes them to perfection. Every shot has this since of foreboding that is rarely seen. This is especially impressive considering the film’s low budget. While a hindrance at some points (I specifically remember a stock sound effect heard on many a Halloween CD) it never hurts the movie visually. It just forced Kent to get creative with things like a very cool and unique use of royalty free silent films. I won’t spoil things but it’s incredibly cool.
With the budget being what it is the movie relies heavily on its performances. While all the performances are good the movie is carried by Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as her son Samuel. Makes his feature film debut Noah Wiseman is perfect as the kid protagonist. While trying to be brave for his mother he’s still a kid; he’s gets scared and is clearly over his head. In a world where the Oculus kids can outrun their psychotic father this realistic portrayal is welcome change. The only performance to rival Wiseman’s is Essie Davis. Clearly on the edge watching this woman dealing with her son who clearly has issues of his own is haunting. Watching the movie I couldn’t help but wonder if there even was a monster or if it was just a collected psychosis. For once the whole “It’s all in your head” gimmick would have worked. While that sounds like faint praise I think it speaks well of the performance to make me think beyond just what’s on screen.
That’s not what we get though. As I said what we get is a straight forward monster movie; great but straight forward. While I appreciate the approach it can get a bit predictable. Instead it became more about appreciating the craftsmanship put into the movie as opposed to getting sucked into it, if that makes sense. This wasn’t helped by the ending. While the only twist of the whole thing it felt pretty anti-climactic after all of the buildup. It’s a shame because I dig look of the monster. Despite the movie’s low budget it has a cool, retro look; very reminiscent in London After Midnight. Instead of a solid conclusion we get an ending that I couldn’t help but feel like it was trying to keep itself open for a sequel.
Maybe I’m just jaded though. I saw the movie with the Mrs. and it terrified her. Heck I can still scare her if I pull off the Babadook’s voice. Perhaps it does deserve the praise it’s gotten from everybody. I just know that for me, it was great but the most frightening movie ever? Not quite.