To and Fro: The Babadook
Twas two nights before finals week, and Cameron wanted to see The Babadook. Cameron isn’t good at coming up with witty parodies, so just forget I even started. Anyway, Saturday the 13th, after my Sister’s graduation from college (YAY!) I made my Step-dad, Doug (a fantastic guy who writes and reports for laughingplace.com), take me to The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana to see The Babadook. Now, The Babadook is already on video on demand (Amazon, Google Play, etc.), but seeing as this might be the only time I could ever see this movie on THE BIG SCREEN, I thought it was worth it. But, because I love coming up with cool ways to make my reviews each a little different, I came up with “To and Fro.” Well, actually the idea comes from CinemaSins Before and After reviews, basically recording two guys driving to the movie talking about it, and then the drive after the movie with their reactions. Since I don’t have an adequate set-up for recording (and who wants to see my face anyways?) I recorded my conversations with Doug, and then went through and made a transcript of them. I took away some unneeded fluff and things that were specific spoilers for the film. But, bear in mind that the second half of this review is an analysis of The Babadook, and if you want to see the movie with absolutely no information, don’t read past the first part. So now, dear reader, journey with Doug and me as we go to The Frida Cinema to see The Babadook.
Cameron: Tell us, what movie we’re going to go see…
Doug: We are going to see… Marmaduke.
Cameron: Yes, The Marmaduke.
Doug: The most horror filled film you could ever imagine. No. We’re going to go see Bah-bu-duke.
C: Its actually pronounced Ba-buh-dook
C: Yeah. Have you seen the trailer for this movie?
D: I have not. I have been reading reviews and all of the reviews have been uniformly excellent for this film. And they describe it in terms like “unsettling” “psychological thriller”, and “horrifying, but not in a traditional sense.”
C: Yes. The words I’ve heard them say is it doesn’t have jump-scares, or at least it doesn’t rely on jump-scares
D: And my wife [my mom] has declined to see this, because she does not like films in which it depicts children in peril.
C: Yes. And that actually was what I was going to talk to you about next. I was thinking, I was gonna ask you the question “What are your favorite horror movies?” But, before I do, I was gonna say that when I was thinking of this question I thought of Coraline which although is a children’s movie I do consider it to be a horror movie…
D: Oh its definitely.
C: And I would also say The Shining. And, I don’t know, you’ve probably not seen the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, which is not really a horror, its more of a “creepy-fantasy” than a horror movie. But, what all of the three of them have in common is the theme of child-parent relationships. But, what are your favorite horror movies?
D: In terms of horror, easily, the earliest film that absolutely horrified me and stayed with me for years and years was Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Strangely enough, not one of Hitchcock’s best films, not considered to be by most people. Yet, for me, it was the idea that something so ordinary as just little flocks of birds could bring such horror and such terror was very unsettling to me. And as a youngster it had a big impact on me.
C: So when did you see that movie?
D: I saw that movie when it was on television when I was a kid. When I was probably no more than eleven or twelve years old. Especially for those times, the gore was kind of graphic, people with their eyes gouged out.
C: Funny enough, the first horror movie I ever saw was the movie Final Destination.
D: Oh you’re kidding?
C: No, I saw it when I was like nine.
D: Why would you have seen that movie?
C: Oh, because Hilary had a friend over, and they wanted to watch it, and I was the bratty little brother who wanted to watch the horror movie with them. And I regretted it.
D: I’ll bet you did. Now another great horror film that I liked very much was the original Halloween.
C: The one with Jamie Lee Curtis.
D: That’s right, the one with Jamie Lee Curtis. Well actually, the second had Jamie Lee Curtis too, but we all prefer to forget that one. The original Halloween, I actually saw that on the recommendation of the reviews. I though it was a really well done movie. While it is the one that is considered to have been the one to kick off the slasher genre, it is not really a slasher movie per se. Its more of a psychological thriller, and it created this incredibly creepy atmosphere and sustained it all the way through. It also had kind of a jokey premise, and yet at the same time was satisfyingly horrifying without cheap terror.
C: And I will answer my next question first. What was the last horror movie that you saw for the first time? The last one for me, which I’d call it a horror movie, was a movie called Cube. That I watched last night. It was good, and they used a lot of practical effects for the gore. Which reminded me a bit of Hellraiser. The thing about Hellraiser is that they spent so much of their budget on certain practical effects that they ran out of money for all of them. So some of the practical effects look really good, and others looked awful.
D: I can’t even think of the last time I watched a horror film, because I’m not a big fan of them these days. Most of them are just designed to gross you out. And I can see enough of that on the evening news. Hilary and I saw one horror film together, Red Eye. And what was both endearing and irritating, because I’m very film-savvy, and because I saw a lot of the precursors of these kind of films, I spent most of the movie leaning over and telling Hilary when the next thing was gonna jump out of where. As in “it’s coming in from screen right.” And sure enough someone would jump in from screen right. And afterwards Hilary said, “How did you know?” And I said, “How could you not.” And that’s the reason why for the most part I don’t go to these types of movies nowadays.
C: That’s the thing. I was watching that movie Cube, and there was a minor little twist, nothing story changing. And as I was watching the movie I couldn’t recall if I had heard of the little twist before, or it was just a little too obvious. So when it was revealed I was like “Well yeah.”
D: Does it ever bother you in horror films when everyone on the screen is amazed at a revelation that was so patently obvious?
C: Yes, and Cube suffered from a bit of that along with some over-dramatic acting. But it was a good film, a little bit cheesy and funny.
D: Well, one of the things that I think helps a lot is having a low budget, and having a group of immensely talented people. It forces them to make really creative choices.
C: That does happen a lot with horror movies. It’s funny, cause in the recent past, there was Paranormal Activity, was really well received, but then the subsequent film series just got worse over time. And then the first Saw movie was really well done, and then the rest of the film just turned into torture fests.
D: Well because they had a lot of money. And it became “Oh, look what we can do with this.”
C: Well, while we’re finding parking. Let’s lead in to The Babadook. I’ve heard the basic premise is “kid has an obsession with monster from a storybook, and the mother starts to believe the child’s obsession.” And I guess we’ll find out if its any good, but just so people know you do not have to drive all the way out to Santa Ana to see this movie, it is already on video on demand. And now that we’ve parked its time to go in and see the movie. The Babadook. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Cameron: Well, first of all, what a creepy kid they got to play the son. I have to imagine that they did some sort of psychological testing to make sure that kid would be okay filming this movie. So what would you say is your initial take on the film? Because its one of those movies where the plot, in this case a monster movie, isn’t really what the film is about. In this case it was more about a wife moving past the death of her husband.
Doug: It’s about how people deal with loss. Or don’t deal with loss. The monster was more what she wasn’t dealing with.
Cameron: Yes, and you know this film. It has a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, which means 98% of critics gave it a positive review. I think this film definitely deserves really positive review, but it wasn’t perfect.
Doug: Yes, there are definitely some major flaws, not the least of which was that they couldn’t really quite decide what to do with the ending. So we got a couple of false endings.
C: The one problem I had was the set design. I felt like the house was a little too obviously creepy, like everything was in shades of gray and black.
D: You know as the movie descends further and further…
C: Well that’s kind of what I’m saying. I felt like it didn’t do that. I felt at the beginning the house was a little too Tim Burton-ish. Because with these kind of horror movies the setting is normal, but the circumstances are abnormal. Unless maybe they’re saying that her grief was so much, that the house is sort of reflecting that.
D: You know speaking of production design. Something I thought was very good in this film was the sound design. I think the sound design did so much for the film. Just the ambient sound and the sound reinforced things.
C: And here’s something that I’m sure you’ll agree with me on. While at some points I was afraid. The thing that made it so creepy was how well they made you see things in the background of the scenes. And at some pints they were obviously making you think things, like “well obviously these shadows are supposed to look like The Babadook.” But at other points, I’d catch myself going “Oh, what is that! Oh its nothing.” It made your eyes play tricks on you. And you know I will probably end up rating this as an 8/10. If this movie had been less, I’d call it, sophisticated, and been more run-of-the-mill it would have been a 7/10. But the fact that they really went the extra mile to refine it, I think it deserves an 8/10 simply for that.
D: In terms of shortcomings, what would you say is a shortcoming of the film?
C: Well, at some points it felt like instead of “the audience should be confused at this point” it was like the filmmaker was confused. I think its best when the filmmaker knows what the truth of the matter is, and is then creating a sense of ambiguity. And I’m not saying that the director didn’t know what was happening; it just felt like that at some points.
D: I think what it suffered from, was that they set up an amazing premise and then could not find the same amazing resolution.
C: But I especially enjoyed the way they showed The Babadook, with that sort of stop motion vibe.
D: And then too, there was a lot in it that referenced, what I would call, antique or Stone Age films. And that they actually inserted some of those films into the movie.
C: Yes. I don’t want to call this film an homage, because it isn’t, it has elements of homages in it. I mean, there are some horror films that are as a totality an homage. This movie was not an homage, it had homages in it.
D: Well, the design of the storybook and then The Babadook was clearly referencing early film and German expressionist cinema.
C: The whole movie had a very storybook design to it. I mean in the set design and the production design there were really no extraneous elements, very simplistic.
D: Yes the production design was very good. Although you found the house to be a little too obvious.
C: And that is probably my single concrete issue with it. If anything the reason I don’t give a higher rating, like a 9/10, is because, while it is a sophisticated well-done film, it’s not remarkable. But, last but not least, if someone you know who loves horror movies asked “should I go see that movie?” What would you say?
D: It would depend on one important thing. If they were a person who liked horror movies that involve splatter and gore and things jumping out at you, I would say “perhaps.” I might have to consider if they might find it a little too precious. On the other hand if it’s someone who loves horror and who loves films I would not hesitate recommend it.
C: And I would agree.
Cameron’s Rating: 8/10
Repeat Viewing Quality: 3/5
Movie Recommendations from this review:
PS: The Frida Cinema in Santa Ana (where we saw The Babadook) will be one of the theaters showing The Interview on Christmas (Dec 25, 2014 thru Dec 27, 2014), so if you live in Orange County and want to see The Interview, I would recommend this theater. It’s a bit outdated, buts its got a lot of heart and it is decent of them to show The Interview. Happy Holidays, Everyone!