We start a new segment today titled Hindsight Review. It is aptly named for the likelihood of the review’s affect on your decision-making. As I lack the means by which to see sneak-peeks and premiers, I see movies when everyone else does. This reduces my chance of affecting your decision on whether to see a film, as you probably have already seen it. Hence, Hindsight Review. My first Hindsight Review is The Babadook.
The Babadook is an Australian horror film about a creature from a morbid children’s book that begins to terrorize a single mother and her boy. What becomes knowledge to the audience fairly early in the film is that the mother lost her husband in a car accident on the way to the hospital to have her son. The primary emotional tension, character development, and essentially the whole tale is based around this incident’s effects.
I have heard several reviews calling this film the scariest horror movie in years (how quickly we forget the cleverly freaky collection of Insidious, Sinister, and The Conjuring). Even the director of The Exorcist raved the film as the scariest movie he has seen in a long time. While I was enthralled with the film’s classic-style build of tension and atmosphere and the creative outlets of the creature, the movie truly shined in its metaphor for grief. I have never seen a horror film so aptly portray a humble, human message of emotional struggle while still giving you genuine chills like this film. Perhaps the closest film in recent memory I can recall would be The Pact, but as much as I love that film, I feel The Babadook‘s message was far more striking.
I have to give this film credit for its fantastic climax. I have never been emotionally moved and scared out of my mind at the same time. Seriously, can you think of a film that has ever done that to you? This film, miraculously and flawlessly, pulls off these emotions multiple times during its final act. The symbolism is teased and sprinkled throughout the film, then culminates in several scenes that both tug at your heartstrings while almost frightening your heart out of your chest. Somehow The Babadook is a genuine horror film that is also a postmodern work of art that delivers a visceral message through its abstract, black soul. I’d say it transcends the genre into a model of its own, but that would be doing a disservice to the directing and writing that portrayed everything through the lens of the horror genre.
But I found a crack in the blackening wall of the film. You are forced to develop a love for the protagonists after first despising them. Even in the midst of your understanding of their emotional conditions, you struggle to feel sympathy by the ways that both mother and son act out on each other and those around them. But slowly, as the film develops, you lose your aggravation and begin to embrace their characters. While I am more than patient enough to wait for this transition, I can see this being an understandable struggle for some who have already lost interest in the potential demise of the characters by the time the dangers become more apparent.
To the horror itself, I found the film to build atmosphere in the vein of recent successes, such as the aforementioned Insidious and The Conjuring. Yet, as many Australian films have in recent memory, the film twists and contorts in such a way that the film becomes its own. The film truly embraces its own originality in the treatment of the Babadook creature.
The creature is treated in various ways throughout the film as the director uses shadow tricks and bone-chilling sounds to grip you in the creature’s clutches with little view of the clutches themselves. My favorite treatment by far was the stop-motion animation feel of the creature in its brief glimpses, as it moved as if it was tearing itself from the pages of the book itself. Even with this unorthodox approach, the creature still came across as terrifying and tangible. You struggle throughout the film to decipher what exactly the Babadook is – a figment of the imagination, an evil entity – until the film concludes.
The film is both terrifying and touching at the same time. Not since The Conjuring have I felt so satisfied with the quality of a horror film, but never have I felt like I had gained something so beyond the scares in the form of a legitimate psychological lesson than in this film. The horror delivers the story, and the scares make it stick with you afterwards, but only to remind you of the layered life lesson that can genuinely affect your perspective. A well-written, well-crafted piece of horror that will likely not receive the public acknowledgement it deserves from the critics that will cripple it due to the genre it inhabits. I could not be happier that the story was told through the horror genre, and I wish more directors and writers in the future would take such chances to tell stories from such an impacting perspective.