|Who will the Babadook kill first?|
Annoying Kiddie? Annoying Mommie?
Annoying Doggie? Or us, the audience?
Dir. Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Review By Greg Klymkiw
God knows I want to see more women directing horror films, but Aussie Jennifer Kent is not one of them. This much-hyped, overrated and singularly limp psychological chiller thriller with a clunky on-its-sleeve feminist bent courtesy of Kent's underwhelming screenplay is gorgeously shot and competently acted, but there's nary a moment of this two-hander that isn't predictably tarred and feathered with a big old brush of been-there-done-that.
It also doesn't help that the whole affair is utterly humourless and annoyingly adorned with the kind of preciousness that gets festival programmers, film critics and pseuds of all persuasions, hot and bothered that they're seeing something resembling an art film dabbling in off-the-well-worn-genre-path. There's nothing original about this, unless you consider a film being new and exciting that's little more than a pallid, oh-so sensitive melodrama about a single Mom (Essie Davis) trying to cope with the death of her husband by taking up the cause of her child's (Noah Wiseman) potentially overactive imagination. The only and truly horrific thing about this film is that the first half features a child who is nerve-gratingly annoying and then, tables turned, a Mom who is even more aggravating than her son. Mixing in a whole lot of over-salted, powdered-soup-like grim fairy tale elements, the movie lets us share in Mom reading a bedtime narrative from a mysterious pop-up storybook of her son's choosing. She'll soon regret being such a progressive parent in such matters.
The storybook recounts the foul antics of our title's nasty monster and weirdly, the said volume she reads from has no ending. Blank pages fill its final third, but rest assured all of them will get filled as the movie's repeated "scares" and hauntings accelerate. Call me a jaded know-it-all, but there were virtually no plot points I didn't see coming and never once did I invest enough care in the characters or proceedings to feel even a single creepy-crawly moment and/or shred of sympathy for either Mother or Child. If anything, I empathized with the poor Babadook who might well, it seems, only be a figment of the damaged imaginations of our vexatious protagonists.
The hype accompanying this picture wants us to believe we're seeing a new horror classic, but all The Babadook really delivers is a horror movie to tickle the fancy of people who really don't enjoy horror movies. For those who should know better, its veneer of respectability will make all of them think they're seeing something special. If anyone cares to buy that, I can certainly sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. The rest of us will look forward to new films by the Soska Sisters, Karen Lam, Jovanka Vuckovic and the upcoming ShriekFest prize winning feature by Audrey Cummings.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars
The Babadook was the 2014 Toronto After Dark Film Festival Closing Night Gala. It will be released by eOne Films, who will hopefully do more than a perfunctory limited platform or straight-to-home-entertainment, which, in spite of my reservations about the picture, deserves a bit more than that.