Tag Archives: children

Movie Review: The Babadook

by Dan Fields

The Babadook terrorizes Essie Davis in Jennifer Kent's horror tale
© 2014 eOne Films/IFC Films

Early this year, director Mike Flanagan brought audiences a horror story of surprising cleverness and punch. That film, Oculus, took a soul-sickening look at the decay of an American family at the hands of of a sinister entity with the power to prey on souls across generations. Now Australian director Jennifer Kent presents a fresh exercise in domestic terror. The Babadook is the more straightforward horror yarn, but thanks to skilled direction and performance it manages to be several times more personal and devastating.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a loving mother in a tough time of life. Widowed by tragedy, raising an eccentric and troubled son (Noah Wiseman), she is a familiar face in horror films. She is the parent doing her best, which never seems to be quite good enough, and in the tradition of stories like Pet Sematary or The Shining she is dangerously close to the edge when we meet her. Son Sam has an overactive imagination which makes him a keen inventor and illusionist, but it also leaves him horribly prone to nightmares. He almost never sleeps, which means Amelia sleeps less. He is sensitive and sweet, but unable to cease the morbid jabbering of his thoughts in the company of others, he often proves embarrassing to his overtaxed mum.

Barely coping with the twin devils of loneliness and exhaustion, Amelia discovers a mysterious children’s book about a cloaked figure named Mister Babadook, so named for his habit of knocking “Ba-ba-Dook! Dook! Dook!” on the door to be let in. The story turns darker from there, enough to upset mother and son alike. Amelia quickly puts the book out of sight, but the monster becomes Sam’s new obsession. Plotting to trap and destroy the Babadook (which seems more and more real every night) he withdraws further and further into his paranoia until Amelia’s nerves are perilously frayed. She does not stop to consider that maybe the shadowy intruder has begun to change her too.

The Babadook is exceptionally crafted, inventing a plausible storybook hobgoblin and then exploiting his dreadful potency to the very last scream. Not many times in recent memory has an original horror film maxed out its monster so vigorously. The film manages not merely to shock or unsettle. It is genuinely frightening throughout most of its running time, a rare distinction among movies of its kind.

When done with care and skill, an exploration of the desperate lengths required to turn a caring parent on a child arguably makes the most poignant and frightening kind of story. The best ones never lose sight love’s power to overcome any spell of darkness. Whether or not love will triumph in this end is immaterial. Until the very last moment, there must be hope.

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

by Dan Fields

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne return to battle evil in James Wan's Insidious Chapter 2

© 2013 FilmDistrict / Stage 6 Films

Insidious Harder

Earlier this year, James Wan scored beautifully in the horror market with The Conjuring (also starring Patrick Wilson), and while this script comes from a different imagination altogether (that of Saw scribe Leigh Wannell), Wan must have known better than to try competing with himself. The sardonic silliness poking through the seams of Insidious: Chapter 2 gives it such emotional distance from the dour, convincingly earnest peril of The Conjuring that by comparison, this gets to be the director’s “fun one” of 2013. Continue reading

Halloween Home Video #2: Pascal Laugier’s The Tall Man

by Dan Fields
First published October 10, 2012 by the California Literary Review

The Tall Man promotional poster

© 2012 Image Entertainment

For The Second Date

Pascal Laugier may be the most thoughtful and earnest of the filmmakers loosely grouped under the heading “New French Extremity.” Although his debut film Saint Ange has not enjoyed lasting success, his second feature Martyrs is a blistering philosophical rumination on the nature of suffering, both spiritual and profane. It is also one rough movie to watch. Do not go waltzing in unprepared. You might try a gateway film first, such as Laugier’s more subdued but very worthy third effort, The Tall Man.

Jessica Biel, the most notable star of Marcus Nispel’s abysmal Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, gets to stretch out in a more complex role here. As widowed town physician Julia Denning, she does her best to treat the wounds and deliver the children of an economically defunct mining community. These townspeople are not convincingly destitute to sell this point, but the stunning exteriors in British Columbia divert the eye and soothe us into accepting the story as it is given us. This movie does look very nice.

Julia has private burdens to bear, and each weighs her down a lot. She finds herself constantly held up to the legacy of her late husband, the town’s previous doctor, and the comparisons are seldom favorable. In addition, she sees more clearly than most that the children of her town have very little to look forward to in life. As though the recession were not bad enough, there has also been a string of child disappearances in the area, believed to be the work of a local phantom known as “The Tall Man.” Things get personal in a hurry one night, when a figure fitting the Tall Man’s description comes calling at Julia’s own house. Julia, though, is not about to give her little boy up without a fight.

Just when this conventional thriller structure seems locked on course for the pursuit, confrontation, and harrowing escape we quite rightly expect, a complete reversal of perspective jars The Tall Man out of orbit. This is a good thing because it is an unexpected thing, but does it also injure the film? For some people, the answer will be “yes.” Nonetheless the movie bravely fights its way out the wreckage and continues down an intriguing side road. More than one side road, in fact. Too many.

In terms of both story and tone, The Tall Man takes at least one sharp turn more than it should. Laugier flirts with some very dark ideas, and although the narrative provides a perfectly grim stopping point, he throws in a few final thoughts nearly optimistic enough to be called hope. This film is tragic, but not as gratifyingly bleak or even logical as it would have been without its final fifteen minutes or so. That said, the befuddling and morally dubious conclusion does improve upon reflection. It is not anything like perfect, but it is surely one of the most thought-provoking thrillers you will see this season.