Tag Archives: monster movie

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.

Halloween Home Video #9: Howie Askins’s Evidence

by Dan Fields
First published October 26, 2012 by the California Literary Review


DVD cover for Evidence directed by Howie Askins
© 2012 RynoRyder Productions

For A Weekend In The Country

If you feel you must milk yet another horror movie out of the bloated found footage craze, please do everyone a favor and follow three basic guidelines: make it short, make it as scary as possible, and bring it to an unexpected conclusion.

Although Paranormal Activity 4 stumbled on its own disappointing sameness, there have been several recent entries in the genre to play by these rules. V/H/S kept itself exceedingly brief and to the point, and the two-part Grave Encounters saga defied all reasonable expectations with a series of truly jarring, if not entirely cohesive, moments of horror.

Of all these contemporary cousins, Evidence fits the proper criteria to top the list. Despite its vague initial motivation, it wastes no time in casting its blithe, carefree protagonists into a supremely weird and terrifying ordeal.

Evidence initially poses as a documentary project of questionable value at best, but soon becomes a record of severe importance. Cameraman Ryan wishes to tape a camping trip led by his friend Brett and co-starring their girlfriends Abi and Ashley. Why Ryan wants to do this is lost in that swampy mire of why most found footage protagonists leave the camera running at all inappropriate times. The implied reasons are that he wants to test out his awesome new camera, and also happens to be just a bit emotionally unstable. This fascination with self-documenting would probably work better with a younger cast of kids. In fact, this might have been a bolder choice all around, although it may have also required the sacrifice of some of the film’s sexual overtones. In any case, on this flimsy but acceptable narrative pretext, the unwitting youths set off in a borrowed camper for the great outdoors.

Everyone seems to be having a good time until the party picks up signs that they are not alone in the wilderness. Sightings of distant, unidentifiable critters in the vicinty put everybody except Ryan on edge. Despite their repeated pleas to pack up and return to civilization, he insists that they stay and let him have his fun with the camera. All concerned come to regret this decision in time.

This is a setup we have all seen a hundred times. What makes Evidence so much fun is where things proceed from such a conventional jumping-off point. To deal out further plot details would be a disservice. The most glib and reductive way to describe Evidence is as a hybrid of Chronicle, Chernobyl Diaries and The Cabin In The Woods. However, an eager minority are bound to consider that a stellar pedigree. And to give fair credit, this movie was in production, and probably completed, before any of the others ever saw the light of a projector. It may lack polish, but it looks good and manages to spin a fascinating yarn with refreshing economy and nerve-shattering atmosphere. The payoff of Evidence is well worth your attention during a first act as familiar as the safety briefing on a commercial airline. When dread explodes into sheer madness, you may well find yourself caught with white knuckles and your hair on end. And what more, really, could you ask?