Not In My Wheelhouse: The Babadook
Welcome to “Not in My Wheelhouse,” a weekly column in which one of our staff members recommends a movie to another that is outside of their cinematic comfort zone! See other entries in the series here.
How Far Outside Of My Wheelhouse Is The Babadook?
I’ve been dipping into horror more and more over the last few years, the one genre of movies I categorically did not watch growing up. I think my first legit R-rated horror movie experience was watching 28 Weeks Later in college. So, tons of horror catch-up to do!
From the buzz out of Sundance, The Babadook looked like a jump-scare driven ghost movie like The Woman in Black, which I still cannot believe Jill and I watched in the theater. By the end of 2014, it had shown up on the Top Ten list of Katey Rich, a film critic I really admire, and someone who is also not a horror junkie by any stretch of the definition. So I have long had this on my to-watch list, but never had that final push, when there are so many other movies I need to see.
This movie is incredible. It is first and foremost an effective and scary haunted house movie, with the dark wood of the house allowing for so many noises for the ears, and dark corners for the eye, to imagine things in. Kent also perfectly nails the rise and fall escalation that allows viewers to catch their breath, and then hold onto something as the next scary sequence is unfolding. The film emulates a roller coaster in the way it provides unexpected twists and turns along the way.
But that alone maybe wouldn't provide the strong impression the film creates on the viewer. The scares in the film don’t exist for the sake of scares, but they tie into the core emotional truths in the lives of the characters. We learn early on that Amelia (Essie Davis) has never gotten over the death of her husband, which happened the same day her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) was born. Even beyond having to raise him on her own, this coincidence has shaped their lives ever since. Samuel has never had a proper birthday party. And each time Sam acts out, Amelia's anger and resentment toward him builds on the foundation of grief that has underlined her feelings toward her son since the day he was born. This taps into the latent resentment that I am sure many mothers feel, while still keeping the audience on the side of Amelia. Also helping this are the stellar performances from both leads. Davis runs the gamut of emotions over the course of the film, and I felt those emotions every step of the way. It also really helps that Samuel is possibly the most annoying child character in the history of cinema. If I am being honest, I was, at one point, rooting for Mr. Babadook to wring his neck.
Without spoiling, I absolutely adore the ending of this film as well. It works excellently on both a thematic level as well as a fantastic twist on the classic monster/ghost formula.
I should listen to buzz more. Hype is another thing I have a problem with, though I’ve done a better job reigning in my contrarian reflexes when it comes to experiencing something that has near-universal praise. And even more specifically, I should listen to my friends who love horror movies when they make a recommendation. Not that a horror film needs to break out of that genre to be something I should seek out, but I should continue to try and get more comfortable with being scared and embrace the way that horror movies make you feel vulnerable in a completely safe way–until you wake up in the middle of the night and think your hoodie and pants on a clothes rack is Mr. Babadook. Oh well, you can’t win them all.
Passing the Baton
Jenna says that studio comedies and action movies are outside of her wheelhouse, so she's going to watch Shane Black’s action-comedy The Nice Guys, which, while it leans heavier on the comedy, does satisfy both requirements as one of the rare recent examples of a non-franchise studio movies sold on its stars and director alone.