Being afraid of what’s under your bed or the monster in the closet is something most kids have faced growing up – whether you were ready to fight or flight, you knew something was there…waiting. Spending many sleepless nights with nothing to keep you company but a dollar store flashlight and your bright comforter – you may have often wondered if it really is just your imagination like mom and dad said, or something else entirely.
Of course most of us grew up realizing the thing in the closet was an old coat, or the creature under the bed was a dirty sock with some dust bunnies for good times. But what if we were wrong? What if the thing we thought was there actually was and these things we dismissed it as were the red herrings the thing wanted us to believe? Now as adults, we’re ripe for the picking and just maybe one day we’ll wake up staring in the face of something we thought only existed in our nightmares. Unable to scream, unable to move, we’ll pine for that dollar store flashlight – our only protection – but will only be able to remain frozen in fear as certain doom is imminent.
It’s easier to believe that monsters don’t exist then to realize they may be right in your own home, and that’s the exact problem single mom Amelia is having. Her son Daniel very much believes in monsters, and he’s ready to fight them off at a moment’s notice. When the young boy brings his mother a strange book to read as a bedtime story, a morbid pop-up book called “Mister Babadook”, the small family of two begins to experience strange things in their home. Things that are starting the way Amelia feels about monsters, she’s starting to believe again – unfortunately, it may already be too late.
One of the core things in making a horror movie work is having someone to root for. You have to, at least to some extent, like the characters you’re going to be spending the next 90 or so minutes with and at the very least find one or two that have enough redeeming qualities that you want to see them making it to the final reel. When you have a small cast, it’s even more important to have characters you’re really rooting for or at the very least sympathize for. In most cases, the least sympathetic characters can be, well kids – I can’t count how many horror films have annoying kids we just wanna see get slaughtered or at the very least sent off to Grandma’s while things “cool down” – thank you Tobe Hooper.
This film unfortunately suffers from having one of the most annoying doe eyed little pricklets I think I’ve ever had the misfortune of having to pretend to care about. From the first five minutes, he made me want good ol’ Mr. Babadook to take him into whatever closet he was hiding in and be rid of him. To my surprise my sentiment was shared by a majority of the supporting cast and in a less than shocking reveal; his mother in many respects as well. If the point was to make this kid unlikable, congratulations – you win.
While I sympathize with his mother, I also felt myself being annoyed with her actions as well. Little Daniel brings in a crossbow to school complete with a dart and her solution is to pull him out of school to go home from some milk and cookies. Go easy on him mom, he’s only showing signs of being borderline and you’re just, ya know, riding with it. Parenting at its finest.
The majority of the film is spent with Amelia convincing Daniel that Mr. Babadook isn’t real – that it’s only a story and that he needs to stop believing in monsters. It’s only until she starts to see the top hatted spook that she begins to believe herself and by that point – she’s already starting to lose her grip on reality.
If there’s anything I can praise about this film it’s the atmosphere. The film is riddled with dread and has a truly terrifying monster that will be sure to haunt your dreams. Mr. Babadook is wisely restricted to mostly shadows and the occasional glimpse of his twisted grin with his claws and top hat which leaves a lot up to the imagination. Considering this is a film that plays on childhood fears, you will often find yourself channeling those fears and that age old imagination which will surely send a shiver or two down your spine.
All in all, it’s not an entirely great film – at least in my opinion – good, well made and effective in many aspects; hell yes. It’s unfortunately plagued by two so-so characters, who you may occasionally feel bad for, one moreso than the other but that is its biggest downfall and unfortunately is the bulk of the film. It’s hard to care or be scared for little Daniel when he spends a majority of the film being a vile little shit who you would expect to see flipping out in the next viral video because he got the yellow fire truck and not the red. He’s annoying, unsympathetic and by the time we start to care about him – the film is almost over and it’s much too late. With a much more likeable kid, this one would have worked a lot better and easily would have been ranked up there for me to be one of the best horror films of the year. However as it stands, I’m not sure it would crack my top ten.
Don’t give it to the hype; give this one a rent first before committing to a purchase – it’s an effective horror film in many aspects for sure, however it may leave some viewers disappointed with its minimalist approach and it’s iffy leads.
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall