Friday, 26 September 2014

The Babadook (2014)

Scary children's book freaks out family when monster literally pops up to haunt them!

A young widowed mother with depression is spectacularly unequal to the task of bringing up junior, now in his awkward and terrible sixes. While a character-driven domestic drama would explore the family dynamic before she snaps and throttles the kid to death, this horror film sticks to the genre’s formula and attributes the unhappy family’s domestic angst and unravelling to malicious supernatural causes. In this case, it’s a monster from a scary children’s pop-up book (the titular and eponymous Mister Babadook).

The gimmick is when the hauntings begin and the monster shows up in the corridors of the big old house, Mister Babadook looks exactly like what he is: something from a scary children’s pop-up book gone very huge and life-size. The monster hardly looks scary but comes across as very disconcerting and menacing; it is a triumph of papier-mache design, old-school stop motion, and puppetry.

I suppose that fits in with the twist: that despite being a horror film, director Jennifer Kent executes it more as a character-driven domestic tragedy. That means no scare shots, loud sound effects, no mysterious shadowy figures moving rapidly across the screen behind our characters. All these are replaced with menacing shots of suits and hats in clothes stands as a manifestation or suggestion of the supernatural figure, whose design emphasises its huge suit and hat. And they keep popping up everywhere to spook both mother and child, but mostly the mother.

If Mister Babadook didn’t actually show up by the halfway mark of the film, you’d swear it was about an impressionable harried mother who sees and imagines things. Or that it’s a horror film allegory about undiagnosed postpartum depression, or about how most old nursery rhymes are actually creepy murder ballads and help with postpartum depression...

In either case, The Babadook is a member of the modern horror genre that acknowledges the genre allegory for domestic anxieties and deals with those instead of heightening the horror elements.

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