I enjoy a good horror movie, but I hardly ever see any. I avoid excess in gore, profanity, and nudity: all things in which horror loves to overindulge. Besides that, though, most horror movies just aren’t very good. Is there another genre in which the worthwhile-to-garbage ratio is so high?
So imagine my joy to hear about The Babadook, last year’s Australian indie hit. I recommend it here not only because it passes the tests of my above criteria, but because it’s simply a wonderful film, period.
Start with the lead. On the strength of this performance, she should get a slew of Hollywood offers now. If this film had been made in Hollywood, she’d’ve been up for an Oscar.
Movies are full of struggling single moms, but I’ve never seen one look so legitimately haggard. Plenty of reviews have noted that this is a film about the persistence of grief, and they’re right.
But in our heroine’s beleaguered existence lies more than grief. She’s a nearly all-encompassing conduit of suburban social ills: regret, shame, ostracism, inadequacy…who can’t relate to some aspect of her plight? I’ve never seen the harsher strains of parenthood portrayed so bracingly.
Warning: the rest of this review is sort of spoiler-y…
Later in the film, her acting turns to an ever greater plane of tour de force. Let’s put it this way: remember The Shining? She ends up having to channel both lead roles. And she does it perfectly.
Speaking of The Shining, here we also get an adorable moppet in danger. One climactic scene has him channeling Home Alone and, while I saw the plot headed there and worried that it would be gimmicky, the film handles it adroitly and then continues with its business. Very well done.
I’ll also say this: as soon as I saw it, I didn’t like the ending, but by the time the credits were done, I had changed my mind. It had to end that way because that’s how life is. It keeps with the heart-rending realism of the film: neither nihilistic nor Utopian, it gives us positive closure while eschewing “happily ever after.”
I can only close with the same kind of breathless praise the rest if the press have lavished on The Babadook: fresh, original, intense, engrossing, effective domestic terror. Like all truly great horror films, the monsters here symbolize what’s worst but innate in us, and emphasizes the necessity of dragging these demons, kicking and screaming, out into the light before they drag us, crying and whimpering, down into the darkness.
These monsters are part of what it means to be human, and this story shows us how honest adults deal with it.
The Babadook is unrated, but I would call it PG-13: no gore or nudity–no severe on-screen violence at all, in fact–and only the brief, obligatory profanity that we get in PG-13 films.
The Babadook is now streaming on Netflix.