Monday, 17 October 2016

The Babadook (2014)

Amelia's husband died driving her to the hospital to have their son, Samuel.  Seven years later, she still struggles with grief, as well as with the demands of being a single mother.  Samuel is a rather highly-strung youngster, quite possibly to the point of suffering from an undiagnosed condition.  Among other things, he's obsessively concerned with monsters, to the point of building weapons such as a backpack-mounted catapult and a hand crossbow for "protection".

Things start to spiral out of control when Samuel takes the latter weapon to school.  This is not the first time he's done something the school can't tolerate, and the principal wants to have him assigned to a full time mentor.  Instead, Amelia withdraws him from the school, planning to place him somewhere else.  But Samuel's continued behavioural issues, and the arrival of a strange, macabre picture book in their home, spark an escalating series of stresses and strangeness.  Samuel is terrified of the villain of the picture book, a creature called "Mister Babadook".  Amelia initially discounts his fears as foolishness, but soon things start happening that she can't explain ... could they really be the target of some supernatural menace?

The first hour of The Babadook is very tense and creepy: great stuff.  Even the "ordinary" parts of Amelia's life feel oppressive and frightening.  Social Services are calling, wondering why Samuel's not in school; and Samuel's behaviour is becoming steadily more aberrant, which is driving away their friends and extended family.

Unfortunately, I don't feel that the film's last act quite follows through on the promise of the first sixty minutes.  The conclusion aims for some ambiguity about what's happening, which is fine in principle but which I didn't think really added anything in this particular case.  More importantly though, the actual climactic scenes lacked the tension of the first two acts and kind of straggle on for too long.

While overall I do feel like the film overall falls a bit short of its early promise, this one is recommended if you're a fan of spooky movies.  When it is good, it is very good.

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