The Babadook (2014)

(On Cable TV, November 2015) I’m not a big genre-horror fan (don’t like the gore, can’t stand the torture), but films like The Babadook are the kind of horror films that bring me back to the genre and defend it against knee-jerk condemnation.  What makes The Babadook different from other average examples of the genre is part conception and part execution.  Thanks to a clear vision by writer/director Jennifer Kent, this is a horror film with substance and it exist primarily to talk about things that go deeper that simple horror.  Beyond monsters and possession, it’s about grief and parental exhaustion as a mother must deal with a dead husband and an unruly son.  The Babadook backs up its intentions with crafty execution: there are a few very strong sequences here, and it takes a while to realize that despite this being a hard-core horror movie with genuine frightening material and somber subject matter, no humans actually die during the film.  The ending even manages to be more unsettling than the typical “evil is defeated… or is it?” that defines so much of the genre.  Essie Davis is exceptionally good in the lead role, and so is young Noah Wiseman in a turn deliberately designed to infuriate viewers into wishing the worst to the character.  (They should be careful what they ask for, though, because the film flips the endangerment later on, to unsettling results.)  One word of caution applies for maximum enjoyment: While The Babadook is strong in metaphors, viewers should be warned that it is about a real monster –trying to pretend that the film is a psychological thriller with no supernatural elements ends up diminishing the film’s ultimate impact.  This being said, The Babadook is a strong entry in a genre that’s seeing some pretty good years lately.  Bundle it with The Conjuring and It Follows for a trio of recent horror films that go beyond the usual genre conventions.

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