The Babadook

Babadook - Poster

Synopsis (from the official website):
From breakthrough writer-director Jennifer Kent comes the creepy psychological horror movie The Babadook that has received an explosion of acclaim following its world premiere at Sundance 2014.  The film tells of a single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, who battles with her son’s night time fear of a shadowy monster.  But soon, she discovers a sinister presence is lurking in the house.
With echoes of past and contemporary classics like Rosemary’s Baby, The Tenant, The Exorcist, The Omen and Let the Right One In, the film is an immaculately crafted tale starring Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.  The supporting cast includes Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear.

My thoughts:

The hype machine was fired up for this one.  The Babadook had been making the festival rounds and was getting nothing but rave reviews.  I wrote a post about the trailer, in which I detailed my attempt to lower my expectations.  I succeeded to some degree, but I was still very much looking forward to this one.  When I finally got my grubby mitts on a copy of this (complete with a severely dialed-back version of the pop-up book), I squealed.  I squealed like a little girl.  In a little dress.  Little saddle shoes.  Little pigtails.

That does sound like a little girl
That does sound like a little girl

The first half hour of this was a little rough.  They needed to set up Essie Davis’ Amelia as an exhausted, barely-clinging-to-her-sanity mother of a problem child (the word they kept using was “disobedient,” but he was really just an unholy terror).  They needed to do this so that, when Mister Babadook showed up, we weren’t sure if there were really a monster in the house or if it was just the frayed edges of her sanity finally becoming fully unraveled.
It’s the way this was done that really wore me down in the early going.  Her son, Samuel, is a shrieking horror.  He sees monsters in the house from the beginning, so he comes up with a series of weapons to battle them (my favorite is a backpack that hurls a baseball with a mechanical arm).  As you can imagine, this ends with him breaking lots of things.  He doesn’t get along with other children, which leads to them picking on him and him retaliating.  Between his gadgets and his violence, he could be seen as a mix between Macaulay Culkin’s character in Home Alone and his character in The Good Son.  He is kicked out of school and forced to spend more time at home with his sleep-deprived mother.  But, most of all, he shrieks.  He kicks and screams and screams and screams and screams…

Babadook - Samuel Screaming

It’s really obnoxious.  I fully understand that’s exactly the point, but it’s grating.  We’re supposed to sympathize with Amelia when she feels like she just can’t go on.  She may not love her child, and we’re supposed to see exactly why she is at this point.  It’s effective, but it’s still not a lot of fun to watch.  Then again, we’re watching as a mother pretends to love her child, all the while fluctuating between being afraid of him and resenting him.  This isn’t supposed to be fun.

Babadook - Checking closet

Then Mister Babadook shows up, and the movie really takes off.  A pop-up book shows up and she reads it to her child.  It’s horrifying.  She destroys the book, only to have it show up later with some more pages added.  Are those new pages real?  Was the book put there by a stalker, or was it The Babadook?

Babadook - Babadook in book

She starts hearing noises in the house at night.  Seeing shadows move.  When the first growling strains of, “Ba ba-ba dook dook DOOK,” filled the room as she hid under her covers, I felt a chill go up my spine.
Even then, it was unclear whether or not The Babadook was real, or just a product of her deteriorating sanity.  Was she really hearing those things, or did she just think she was?  She was sleep-deprived to begin with, but, as the movie progressed, it seemed like she didn’t sleep more than 15 minutes a night.  That little sleep can do terrible things to a mind.


As Amelia’s sanity slipped further way, Samuel somehow became the voice of reason.  The tables had turned.  He was now terrified of his mother, and with good reason.  As much as she recoiled in horror when the book showed her killing her son, a part of her seemed like that would be a good idea.  As a child, what’s more terrifying than a mother who wants to kill you?  How she came to that point is trivial.  To Samuel, it doesn’t matter if she’s possessed by a monster or just exhausted: the end result is the same.


I don’t want to get into it too much more, lest I creep into spoiler territory.

I loved this.  As I mentioned, the first act can be a little dicey, but it’s a necessary evil.  The second act is great and filled with a lot of creepy moments.  The third act goes completely bonkers, in the best way imaginable.  It can be a little hard to watch at times – we basically have a front row seat for some nasty family violence – but it’s not pointless.  Everything is here for a reason.  It’s a film that doesn’t pull any punches, but also isn’t shocking for the sake of being shocking.
This is an extremely affecting psychological thriller that may-or-may-not involve an actual monster.  While it may not be as terrifying as I had hoped it would be, it was still really creepy and was on my mind for days.  A lot of these images and themes are extremely hard to shake.
This movie works best when you’re paying full attention to it.  Find a quiet night, turn off all the lights, and lose yourself in The Babadook.

Babadook - Amelia Screaming

Rating: 5/5

One final thought:
Rumor has it they were going to fire up a Kickstarter for a real version of the pop-up book seen in the film (I found this Thunderclap campaign that was fully funded, so this is probably it, but I kept hearing it was either Kickstarter or Indiegogo).  While I think that’s a really great idea, I do have some concerns.
Let’s say that reading this book wills Mister Babadook into existence.  Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to flood households with a book that calls forth a monster?  It’s basically the plot of the Pinky & The Brain Christmas special, except instead of it ending with The Brain taking over the world through hypnosis, it ends with a ton of people housing a monster and possibly killing all their loved ones.  This seems like a very bad idea.

Noodle Noggin Lit UpAlso, is there only one Babadook, or will each book conjure up a separate Babadook?  If there’s only one, the results would be delayed.  He would terrorize one family until he’s done, then move on to the next (or he would try to split his time equally and end up with all of us being mildly inconvenienced by his presence).  If there is one Babadook for every book, we’re in big, big trouble.
I’ll still buy that book, though.  I know they say you can’t get rid of him, but I take that as a personal challenge.  You and me, Mister Babadook.  Let’s dance.


Excision - Poster

Review by Christopher Maynard.

Directed By Richard Bates Jr
Starring AnnaLynne McCord, Richard Bart, Ariel Winter, Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell and John Waters

An awkward but intelligent teenage girl (McCord) obsessed with blood, surgery and losing her virginity struggles to save her sister.  I guess that sums up Richard Bates Jr.’s 2012 horror/comedy/mindfuck of a movie, but trust me when I say that it is far more than that brief summary.

Excision has brilliant performances and style for any film maker, let alone a first time director.  There are images in this film that will stay with me for years to come.  Bates takes shocking subject matter and photographs it like a sunset or a spotted owl; the grotesque is treated with reverence and awe. While that approach might have some people immediately crying torture porn or blood porn or perhaps some other buzzword that’s used in lieu of actual critical analysis, they would be flat out wrong. It’s that approach that allows the viewer into the mind of our protagonist. At first these glimpses into Pauline’s mind are played for comedic effect but as the film plays out we become more aware of how deeply troubled our teenage lead truly is. This film feels very deliberate and controlled. The pacing and mood shifts are all dealt with precision and care. Early on it becomes clear that we are in the hands of a storyteller who wants us to experience something unique. This is not a film that has style simply for the sake of having style. While the film is beautifully shot the look is always in service of the story.
The tone of this film shifts from fairly light to completely nuts. The tonal shift is gradual and while we are given hints throughout the film of how screwed up Pauline might be, like the people in her life, we, the viewers of this film overlook her behavior and ignore all the warning signs. We are shown what is clearly the behavior of someone in desperate need of psychological treatment and tell ourselves that she is just quirky and we are thereby complicit with her actions.  We are held responsible for one of the more troubling endings to a film that I have seen in a long time. This is not an easy film to watch but I’m glad that I have seen it and look forward to revisiting it in the near future.

Bates has a film scheduled for release later this year called Suburban Gothic and I have a feeling he might be a director to keep an eye on.

Excision is available on demand through Showtime and Starz for rental or digital purchase through Amazon, Vudu, iTunes and YouTube and by subscription service through Netflix.

Looks like you might have to rent this one.  If you are lucky enough to have a video store nearby chances are it’s a mom and pop operation so do us all a favor and please support them.

Blue Ruin


Written and directed by Jeremy Sauliner, Blue Ruin is a powerful return to form for the revenge movie.  Macon Blair (Murder Party) plays Dwight, a man, who at first, looks to be homeless, but we learn that Dwight has chosen to live in a car. This is a man who has been beaten down by life and this is the direction he chose.  When Dwight learns that the man who murdered his parents is being released from prison, he gets his car back into running order, buys a road map and heads to the prison just in time.

Blair does an outstanding job of portraying Dwight with the look of a lost, little lamb who, underneath it all, has a pretty firm grasp on the road he is about to take and all of the potential repercussions. Especially at the beginning of the film, his absolute look of innocence reminded me so much of Bud Cort in Harold and Maude. You just want to take him in and take care of him. As his story progresses, Dwight slowly becomes a bit more sure of himself and his intentions.

Dwight makes some choices that put his sister and her family in danger. He has chosen to take revenge on a family who does not call the police; they simply take care of things on their own. When his sister tells him, “I’d forgive you if you were crazy, but you’re not. You’re weak.” it is one of the few times Dwight looks as though he is really seeing and feeling the consequences of his actions.

This is what I like to refer to as a “quiet” movie. There is very little dialogue in the film and this is what makes it so haunting. The score is just as subdued and perfectly fits every scene, every emotion, every moment. Certainly more of a  thriller than a horror film, Blue Ruin does not lack for blood. In a particularly memorable “self – surgery” scene, my toes curled. Literally.

This is the kind of movie that draws you in so completely, that you are somewhat mesmerized. Although you are never sure if you agree with Dwight’s decisions, you are very happy to be along for the ride.


Entrance Poster


Description from Netflix:
After mysteriously losing her dog one evening, a Los Angeles barista questions her commitment to living in the city and decides to get out.  But when her going-away party takes an odd turn, she finds that the city just might not let her go so easily.

What I liked:

1. The acting was stellar.  I believe everyone involved had limited acting experience, yet they were all terrific.  For a slow movie to work, I have to feel invested in the characters, and it succeeded in doing that with some great acting.

2. The sense of paranoia and dread that slowly built throughout the movie.  There was one particular scene in which Suziey was walking down a road at night and was being followed by a car.  It was a long scene, but it was effective.  That was when the movie really seemed like it started to pick up.

3. The ending.  The last 20 minutes of this movie were terrific.  All of the paranoia and dread came to a head in terrifying and stressful fashion.  What had been a look inside the mind of a woman hitting a quarter-life crisis in a big city became a living, breathing nightmare for her and her friends.  This is when the movie turned from psychological thriller to slasher/home invasion.  The last 10 minutes or so is basically one unbroken shot, where the actress (Suziey Block) was actually tied up to make it more believable.  It’s a tense and horrifying end to the movie, and the final scene is absolutely chilling.

What I didn’t like:

1. It opens extremely slowly.  Lots of scenes of Suziey going to work, talking to friends, and looking for her dog.  Short of the dog disappearing (which we don’t even see), we’re really just watching a girl go about her daily life, while getting ready to move.  It’s really boring.  Beyond being really boring, it doesn’t even seem like it’s building towards anything for a long time.  It was about halfway through the movie before any tension started to build.  Which makes this movie feel an awful lot like Death Proof: lots of talking, not much happening.  It almost lost me in the first 20 minutes.  I’m glad I pushed through to the end, but, if I didn’t know there was a good ending waiting for me, I probably would have hit stop before the 30 minute mark.

To recap: set in the city.  Slow start.  Lots of talking about nothing in particular for long portions of time.  A killer that shows up near the end and starts hacking.

Holy crap.  It’s Jason Takes Manhattan.

Rating: 2.5/5

Let’s break this down a little further:

First 60 minutes: 1/5

Last 25 minutes: 5/5