Critics George Griffiths and Laura Meek review Aussie scare fest The Babadook
Trailers can often be very deceptive, as we found out after watching Jennifer Kent’s debut film ‘The Babadook’. The plot was reasonably simple with a mother and son who get haunted by the Babadook after reading a ‘children’s’ popup book. This was our conversation and review post-Cineworld.
Laura: Personally I thought the opening was clichéd. I thought it was too set up like a horror film.
George: I disagree, because it was meant to be set up as a horror film because it is a bloody horror film!
Laura: Yeah, but it was a typical creaky house with the floor boards that creaked and the atmosphere seemed forced.
George: Yeah but Jennifer Kent turned it into something at the start that could have been quite different. The style of it was set up with the two characters. Mother and the son. It felt claustrophobic, but because the son was so annoying and the mother was…
Laura: We’re not talking about characters.
George: At the start you felt sorry for her.
Laura: But why does that set it up to be a good horror? I thought it was way too clichéd, it was all very grey, the set was very minimalistic, it was very old-fashioned and it had the creaky house effect.
George: I quite liked that element of it because I thought it set up the atmosphere quite well. As in, it’s not a horror film set up like, it was contained within the house and I thought that was nice, like I said it had a claustrophobic effect.
Laura: But I feel like that’s been overdone especially with the creaky floorboards cliché. The action didn’t happen quick enough. It took a bit of time to get into it which kind of annoyed me.
George: It took a bit too much time to establish what is was going to be.
Laura: It really tried to, it relied heavily on characterisation.
George: But then the pop-up book came along and I thought that immediately…
Laura: The book was fabulous. And I think the book really added to the initial creepiness.
George: It’s not something that’s necessarily been done before – a pop-up book being evil.
Laura: And actually the drawings were quite scary.
Laura: I found the drawings were scarier than the actual character, the Babadook. I thought the book was really good, and I feel like they didn’t overplay the novelty of the book either.
George: She read it once and then she read it again. That’s all. She didn’t keep going back to it. It was almost as if the film was scared to look at it again.
Laura: Definitely. In some films they totally overuse a prop – they’ll throw it out, it’ll come back, they’ll throw it out and it keeps coming back and I always find it annoyingly repetitive.
George: And the style of the book was quite unique. Blood red and black. I thought that was quite visually impactful.
Laura: I liked the fact that it was so childish. The one sentences on each page, and the words dotted around a bit.
George: It was a bit like a modern children’s book you’d pick up in a shop. But it’s not.
Laura: But then never buy — but back to the characters… I thought the Babadook was a really good idea.
George: Good idea, Hard to pull off.
Laura: I liked how there’s a moment where she goes into the police station and she sees a coat hanging up and it looks like the Babadook, and the same moment happens earlier in the film but it’s her son hanging up a coat and pretending that it’s his deceased dad. These moments continued throughout the film and it was a really effective way to create suspense and uncertainty and a feeling of being watched in different scenes.
George: The bit where you see the Babadook on the TV was just fantastic, but it was playing an old vintage program and then the Babadook would appear at random points, always behind someone, as a sort of faceless figure with ‘Edward Scissorhand-esque’ hands. And because it was in vintage programs that’s when you think, maybe it has some history to it, but it never really gets explored.
Laura: Yeah, there really wasn’t much depth to the character and it never showed face and at the end you thought you were going to see it and then…
George: You didn’t.
Laura: Exactly! It was presented as a sort of Satanic –
George: Edward Scissorhand – Jack the Ripper kind of character.
Laura: I really liked the combination, but I really didn’t like the voice. Also, the main characters, the mother and the son also let down the film.
George: I don’t think I’ve ever been so willing to have a character killed off in a movie before.
Laura: The mother was okay, but then she just got too depressing. You just couldn’t relate to her as a character.
George: She was a terrible mother as well!
Laura: Yeah, she didn’t like her son. She didn’t have a personality and that just really irritated me.
George: At first you’re like, oh she has a bad son, she’s in a bad job, her husband has died, poor her.
Laura: But by the end you’re like, there’s nothing special or interesting about her.
George: No personality. And the kid! I’ve seen many bad children in horror films but he was the worst!
Laura: So we do not like the child. Anyway, onto the ending. It is so bizarre. I didn’t really understand it.
George: It is underwhelming, in the underwhelming sense you can think of a horror film ending. As in it doesn’t really end. Nothing is resolved. No one learns anything.
Laura: It just didn’t seem to tie up at the end. The credits came on and we were both like ‘what?!’
George: It just stopped.
Laura: But, I would still say it was a good film, just not a good horror film.
George: No. Maybe more of a psychological exploration of a relationship between a mother and a child. It would then hold some merit.
Laura: I disagree. I just didn’t think there was much of a relationship. There wasn’t enough personality to establish anything more than a negative, dysfunctional relationship.
George: It started as a psychological drama with some horror thrown into the middle of it and then towards the end it just died. But, other than that I think Jennifer Kent did a good job – she had some original visual flair that she added to the film and her idea of using a children’s book and her use of repetition was particularly successful.
Laura: What rating would you give it George?
George: I would give it three and a half stars. The half for the potential.
Laura: I would say three stars. Overall an entertaining film, but not something I would buy on DVD.
Worth a watch but not a must see
Six out of Ten
George Griffiths and Laura Meek