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Monday, October 28, 2019

Review: The Babadook

Director: Jennifer Kent
Screenplay: Jennifer Kent
Year: 2014

Being a parent is no simple task and this is easily translated to horror cinema as it has been exemplified in classics as “The Omen” or in more recent titles like “Bloodline”. Being a single parent is an even greater challenge, as all the physical, emotional, and economical load of raising a kid falls into one person. If this comes as the horror of unexpectedly losing a partner, this can be the perfect recipe for developing depression and other psychological problems.

In "The Babadook", after losing her husband in a fatal accident before giving birth, Amelia becomes a single mother. Her son Sam doesn't make things easy being a hyperactive child that demands plenty of attention. While the life of Amelia slowly falls into pieces under the stress of being a single mom, a children's storybook appears in her house that has Mr. Babadook as a central character. The presence of this character in her house becomes more and more real as her emotions get out of control. 

“The Babadook” is the directorial and screenwriter debut of Jennifer Kent (“The Nightingale”) in a full-length movie. In this Australian movie, she uses adult topics and fears through psychological drama tied to fantasies and fears in the mind of a child and horror movie characteristics. If something is left clear about this director and screenwriter is her disinterest for shallow topics and cheap scares and great esteem for classic horror cinema.

Kent makes use of a deeply sober color palette during the whole movie that has the double function of serving as a tribute to black and white horror cinema and to establish the tone of the movie based on Amelia’s psychological condition, that is what ends up fueling the plot. The prominence of gray tones and the absence of vivid colors scream loudly about the depressive state in which Amelia is sunk in by the absence of her husband and how difficult it is for her to raise Sam. Both actors, who carry most of the weight of the film, do a phenomenal job. Essie Davis (“Assassin’s Creed”) as Amelia always leaves clear the emotions she feels, that bring frustration, courage, or both after an interrupted sexual action, and Noah Wiseman does a very good job portraying a child that is as adorable as unbearable.

Besides the colors, the director uses other elements inspired by classic black and white horror cinema. The most interesting one is the use of stop-motion in some scenes where the creature baptized as Mr. Babadook appears, which leads to it having strange movements reminiscent of classic cinema and the preference for using practical effects and flee from using CGI. All these compliments the strong influence of psychological topics presented on the plot and the audiovisual compartment.

Addressing the psychological horror, this movie explores several adult topics where depression and grief are the central part. Initially, we see the effect of these on Amelia’s physique, but slowly, adding the wear that supposes her son Sam, we see them accentuate and express on her mental health. All of these are developed in an intelligent way and it expects the same from the viewer, leaving it to read between the lines in the situations, as in the reactions of Amelia, the metaphor that represents Mr. Babadook, and the origin of the book, without losing focus on the psychological horror that all this supposes.

“The Babadook”, besides having a component that invites to think on the supernatural, works its horror based on the emotional strain that represents having a loved one and becoming a single parent. The subtlety in which the events and revelations are presented and the sobriety of the visual compartment complement the mournful and uncomfortable atmosphere and gives it that terrifying tone. This movie doesn’t settle for being simple and with a few scares, but dwells on complex topics, complemented by the elaborate visuals, and that requires of a viewer that is willing to think about what it’s being shown.

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