Monday, June 29, 2015

Pop-Up 'Dook

Because indie films and foreign films often don't get the attention they deserve, you'll sometimes find that critics lavish praise on them as something of an overcorrection. I think such was the case with The Babadook, a 2014 Australian horror film that seemed to get near-universal acclaim.

Amelia is a widowed mother raising her 6-year-old son Sam, but both are mired in grief and struggling to get by. In particular, Sam's fear of monsters is costing both of them much needed sleep. One night, Sam finds a pop-up book called "The Babadook," which describes a horrific monster that torments anyone made aware of its existence. Almost immediately, creepy signs of this creature's presence begin to manifest, and their lives become even more nightmarish.

The Babadook is sort of a potpourri of a number of other more well-known (and I'd say mostly more effective) horror films. The base is The Ring, in that it's centered on a mother and child, hunted by an inexorable force that can't hurt you until you know about it and can't be stopped once you do. But mixed in with that, you'll find elements of Sinister, The Amityville Horror, The Sixth Sense, and more. I suppose the plot elements of horror films get recycled even more than those of other Hollywood films.

There are several effectively creepy sequences in The Babadook. The movie is actually at its best before the monster is made indisputably real. For at least two-thirds of the story, you could pass off everything that happens as psychological distress brought on by lack of sleep -- visions at the corners of your eyes, an inability to think clearly, and the stress of a young boy who really doesn't know how to handle his emotions. It's when things become definitively supernatural that the movie begins to borrow more heavily from other, greater films, and becomes far less interesting.

I do have to give props to the film for trying to generate legitimate suspense and dread rather than dipping into the bag of cheap scares. Still, it's a tough movie to recommend. The very people most likely to appreciate it will also be the people most familiar with other films that "did it better." I give The Babadook a B-.

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