The Babadook is a 2014 Australian / Canadian horror movie that was mostly shot in South Africa. Real international, this thing. The movie follows Amelia, played by Australian actress Essie Davis, as she struggles to cope with the death of her husband and with her increasingly troubled young son. After she reads him a mysterious bed-time story titled "Mr. Babadook," she finds herself haunted by the eponymous monster. Maybe the movie's an allegory for dealing with grief, or maybe it's just about a goddamned monster. Check out the trailer and then what we thought below, and let us know if you agree.
Jack: The Babadook. Another horror movie from Australia, huh guy? Although the last one we reviewed went over pretty well, so here we go again.
Jake: Yeah well, maybe I’m a guy who can pick out a pattern.
Jack: Hard to get more critically acclaimed than this movie. Since debuting at Sundance in early 2014, it has risen to and maintained a 98% critics’ rating and mid-70’s audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Those are damn good numbers. And it’s easy to see why: Essie Davis is captivating as Amelia from the beginning. Her performance only gets better right through the climax and . . .
Jake: Slow your role there dicknose. We’re aiming for a more linear, plot-driven review.
Jack: Fuck right off. You just broke my rhythm. I may never get it back. I hope you’re happy with yourself. When this review is shite, you really have no one but yourself to blame.
Jake: Ok. While you hold onto your ‘artistic integrity,’ I’m gonna be basking in the sweet glow of our readership tripling since we started the plot-driven reviews instead of exclusively babbling incoherently. We have literally threes of readers now.
Jack: It is hard to argue with those numbers. Fine. The movie opens on Amelia’s dream, in which we learn that her husband died in a car crash. Almost immediately, you feel her character’s isolation. She’s lonely, tired, overworked, and loves her kid but doesn’t really know how to deal with the little shit. Her six-year-old son, Samuel, is scared of monsters that keep him up at night, and is obsessed with building weapons to protect he and his mother.
Jake: Man, it’s the kid who’s the monster in the early part of this movie. This Angus Young-lookin’ little bastard is insufferable. I almost had to turn the volume down at a couple points when he’s screaming bloody goddamn murder. But herein lies one of the movie’s strengths. It builds the characters out incredibly well. Just when you’ve had enough and you start to lose it and (I imagine) get that look on your face like Amelia manages to wear the whole movie, there will be a cut. A reprieve. And hot damn is it welcome.
Jack: He really adds to the hopelessness that Amelia is feeling. The atmosphere early on is fucking great. All the scenes feel depressing and creepy and like something’s strange but you can’t put your finger exactly on it. And it all feels real, which only intensifies all those feelings. A great example is early on when they are eating on opposite ends of the table in the dimly-lit kitchen in silence. You feel every goddamn second of that meal. It really just goes to show that all healthy families eat dinner in front of the TV. It’s the only way to go.
Jake: The American way… Does it feel real though? That’s interesting because I got a very muted, trancelike feeling from the outset of this film. Everything has a sort of dead sterility to it, which I found fascinating. The color scheme is almost exclusively shades of grey, and even the trees and other foliage are dead. The detail was impressive.
Jack: Maybe it’s just that I assume suburban Australia is that depressing? I’m not sure. I felt like I was right there, feeling just as overwhelmed as Amelia. In any case, she continues on and tries to be a good mom. When it’s Samuel’s turn to choose his bedtime story, he selects a strange, large pop-out book that Amelia has clearly never seen before. The book is simply titled “Mr. Babadook,” and when they first start reading it, it seems innocuous, if a little creepy.
Jack: As they read the book, it warns them that no matter what you do, you can’t get rid of the Babadook. I’m not sure if it’s the atmosphere, or just the book itself, but Jesus Christ, I was genuinely creeped out, and Amelia’s fantastic escalating tension through the scene only made it worse. It’s scary.
Jake: And then we get another wonderful scene of Samuel losing his shit about the monster. He shifts gears so quickly from hilariously bold beast hunter with serious craftsmanship skills to little kid scared of the closet that it’ll make your head spin. I imagine that’s actually pretty on par with what a real kid would do. I wouldn’t know, I keep my distance from those hellions.
Jack: A smart move to be sure. Nothing good comes from dealing with kids. When the Mr. Babadook book illustrates the kid’s death, Amelia takes it, rips the thing to shreds, and throws it away. Things go from bad to worse for her, as her son gets kicked out of school for bringing his monster-slaying weapon to class, and she starts to get shit from her boss at work for the time she’s had to miss to deal with the little fucking maniac. At his cousin’s birthday party -- which incidentally has a mime. A fucking mime. What the fuck parents of Australia? Why the fuck do you suck so hard? No kid wants a mime. If it does, that’s a garbage kid -- Samuel alienates himself further from the other kids, and shoves his cousin out of a tree house causing her to hurt herself and the Aunt to essentially cut all ties with them, removing Amelia's last thread of external support.
Jake: Did you really just have a six sentence digression right smack fucking dab in the middle of another of your sentences? Have you done writing before? That is not how that works.
Jack: I will do whatever I damn well please. You’re the one who got me off track right from the beginning. Everything in this movie oozes unsettlingness. At one point Amelia starts to poke at a strange seam in the wallpaper, and a cockroach just kind of squirts out. It’s not particularly gross or frightening, it’s just unsettling. And the uneasiness builds from there. One night in bed, she hears the Babadook in the hallway. A sound kind of like scraping metal. Slowly. Getting closer. It’s fucking terrifying.
Jake: “Unsettlingness”... Sure. In seriousness though, it really is tense. The whole thing feels like a slow descent into madness. You feel for the strain put on these characters as things begin happening to just pile on to the mountain of shit that is already their life.
Jack: Yeah, and it feels inescapable too. There’s some creepy knocks at the door, but no one’s there. Instead Mr. Babadook, the book, is back, and all the pages have been taped back together. Only where there were blank pages in the back, there are now new pages showing Amelia strangling the dog and Samuel, and then slitting her own throat. Amelia immediately burns the book on the grill in the yard.
Jake: This is where one of the most important scenes in the movie happens, so we can’t go skipping it. Amelia decides she’s had enough and goes to the police station to report a stalker. Problem is, she has no evidence. She burned the damn book. Kicked that fucker in the creek . . . The police also notice what appears to be soot on her hand from when she burned it. Thing is, it might not be soot. See, there is a little piece of dialogue earlier in the movie where it is mentioned in passing that Amelia used to write, including things for kids, and it can be surmised that Amelia used to write children’s stories. Soo… twist? What’s going on here? Is there a monster at all? Is Amelia just so far at the end of her rope that she is losing track of herself and creating the creepiest piece of literature since Jack in The Shining?
Jack: . . . Hmm. I’ve seen this movie once before, and I did not put that together. It never occurred to me that she was the one writing Mr. Babadook. Fuck me right? It makes perfect sense, and adds to Samuel’s terror of her.
Jake: You didn’t pick up on that huh? You are oppressively stupid sometimes.
Jack: Yeah, well you’re stupidly oppressive sometimes. Keeping me down. GATTICA! GATTICA! Anyway, Amelia stops sleeping altogether. She tries to watch tv to calm herself down, but instead falls into a stress-trance if that’s a thing, and starts hallucinating. I think I know why. What the fuck cable package does she have that shows exclusively the most terrifying and creepy fucking shows that have ever existed? Seriously an episode of Seinfeld could have fixed her whole demeanor. Anything would have seemed less bleak. Like Top Chef. Shark Tank. Fucking the Big Bang Theory. Whatever. Seriously, you watch this shit and tell me you’d have just as easy a time seeing the Babadook in an episode of Friends:
Jake: True. But not everywhere can have the same great tv channels as the good ol’ U.S. of A, my friend. We have to accept this. There is a scene in the movie where the Lon Chaney Phantom of The Opera is on though, so that right there almost saves any other programming concerns one could have.
Jack: A great movie, to be sure, but something you’d watch when you’re at your wit’s end and just begging for sleep? Actually, that does sounds like you. The Babadook eventually fully possesses Amelia, and the images from the book start to come true: She kills the dog and tries to kill Samuel, who pulls almost literally the exact move as the kid from Goodnight Mommy, and then ties her up in the basement, where his love allows her to expel the monster or some shit I couldn’t focus on because I was too scared.
Jake: Hold up a second. She kills the dog? The dog dies? That’s pretty surprising for a horror film.
Jack: During the full-on Babadook-ings (which sounds like a horrible sex-act), the monster is hard to see but fully realized and terrifying. The sounds are great too. Except one that the movie uses four goddamned times. A dinosaur roar. And If I’m not mistaken (and I’m not), I believe that roar to be the sound Tommy Oliver’s Dragonzord would make after it rose from the sea after Tommy played his dagger like a flute that sounded like a trumpet.
Jake: You are a lunatic. And it's from a whole shit-load more than the Power Rangers. It's also from the Land Before Time as the roar of the sharpteeth. In any case, it’s clearly not a dinosaur roar but the sound of screeching tires because the Babadook isn’t a real monster but a personification of the grief these characters are living with and cannot escape from due to the horrific accident that killed Amelia’s husband. We’re talking about deep shit here, man. Layered shit. And you sit here, belittling it with your bullshit comparisons. Power Rangers? You are just raping the film’s ‘artistic integrity’.
Jack: Whoa buddy. First off, trigger warning. Second off, that’s not how artistic integrity works: they have to maintain their integrity despite what the audience wants. Plus man, that’s on them. If they wanted it to be deep, they shouldn’t have used the Dragonzord sound. Anyways,I really don’t understand the end of this movie. They keep the Babadook in the basement and feed it worms. What the fuck? I know that it’s supposed to represent grief or some horseshit, but then why have it in the basement? If you’re supposed to embrace and deal with your grief, shouldn’t you not keep it in the room you never go into anyway because it stirs up too much grief? Fuck.
Jake: It’s all metaphors man. It’s worms because they are dead. She did act out the book (which she wrote, idiot). That’s why in the final scene things are so much brighter and the trees have leaves and they are happy and Samuel pulls off that insane magic trick that there’s no way he could have actually executed in a real-world scenario. Right? . . . You know what? No. I can’t do it anymore. There’s a lot of speculation out there about this movie and what the Babadook is and talk about Jungian psychology and the idea of the shadow. All I know is it was a pretty enjoyable ride and to sit here like a real prick pretending I’m all-in on it as being allegorical just isn’t going to happen. It’s horse shit. I drink too many beers while watching these movies for that. Let’s rate this thing.
Jack: In a second, you’re forgetting one thing: [Gameshow music!] Jack’s incomprehensible note of the week:
“Why are bingo-callers, as a people, liars by nature?”
Jake: Man, I am seriously going to leave this pile of shit website if you don’t fix this so-called “segment.” That note is totally comprehensible, and not particularly interesting or whatever your one from The Shining was. You need to get your house in order. For the second time, let’s rate this thing.
For 1, think of how you would have rated the likelihood of Cowboy Curtis going on to play the sage and wise mentor-figure in an action movie like The Matrix:
For 10, think of how J. Wellington Wimpy would rate having a hamburger while waiting until Tuesday to pay for said hamburger:
Jack: 6 - A pretty solid story, but there isn’t that much here to praise. Pretty typical parent / child goes crazy story, but with a unique and cool new boogeyman. I didn’t like the end.
Jake: 7 - Nothing completely groundbreaking in this story, but it is done very well and builds on the supernatural / possession framework with a few novel elements. Loved the children’s book as a centerpiece. Children’s books can be creepy, and this one sure was. Note I’m choosing to ignore Jung here because fuck you is why.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 9 - This was unreal. I felt all the stress and isolation of Amelia. When they’re reading the book, I was just as intensely focused on turning those fucking pages as they were. When Amelia is in bed late at night and the sounds start, I was looking at the doors in my house.
Jake: 7 - This was a weird one for me. That kid, man. I both found him very effective and found it difficult to remain fully immersed with him just flying off the handle so often. Remember when I said I almost had to turn it down a few times? I was not engrossed during those times. I was annoyed. A lot.
Jack: 8 - The Babadook is one of the scarier movies I’ve seen as an adult. Everything comes together to create an atmosphere of unease that culminates in genuinely frightening scenes and almost never resorts to lazy jump scares.
Jake: 7 - Creepy imagery in a creepy children’s book definitely aided this score. I thought the movie did a very good job applying the ‘less is more’ mentality. This movie is about what you don’t see, and the atmosphere benefited for it. I thought it suffered a little in the final act for two reasons. 1) the scene where you, as the viewer, go into first person view as the Babadook was odd. And this came right after Amelia calls it out like it's her WWE introduction or something. I thought it robbed it of some creepiness. 2) Samuel getting thrown against the wall was really funny. Seriously. Watch it again and tell me you don’t chuckle.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 7 - The book itself was great. The drawings of the Babadook are terrifying. Then they did a great job bringing those images to life. I understand the director insisted on all stop-motion practical effects, and just used computers to smooth the viewing experience out. And the Babadook being inserted into the creepy tv shows and movies. Great. It loses points from me for that goddamned Dragonzord noise.
Jake: 6 - The movie’s atmosphere benefited greatly from its lack of showing the audience anything. There were a few scenes where effects came into play, and I didn’t exactly love them (See, scene where husband apparition gets head sliced in half).
Jack: 8 - This movie will likely go down as one of my all-time favorites. Sure, I don’t think it totally got there on the metaphor shit like everyone else on the internet seems to think, but turns out it didn’t need it to be fucking awesome.
Jake: 6.75 - Whoa, whoa, whoa… “All time favorites”? Even though you hated the ending? I liked this movie. I liked it more than my score would seem to indicate. But them’s the breaks with a system like this. Definitely worth a watch (or like 8 if you are Jack and love it yet haven’t noticed its “layers”).