"I promise to protect you if you promise to protect me.”
What is it about Jennifer Kent’s film The Babadook that draws so many people in?
Before writer/director Jennifer Kent made her debut feature film The Babadook, she made a short film called Monster which bears a lot of similarities with her feature. What it doesn’t have is the metaphorical element that the feature carries, but it’s got a mom, her son, and a monster living in the closet. In some ways, the streamlined short story works better because it’s just a straightforward story. The feature film is hard to separate from its existence as a metaphor as grief. Still, countless people have found a connection with it.
Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our Horror Debuts series with Kent’s first film, 2014’s The Babadook.
Here’s a hint at what we talk about in our conversation about The Babadook.
Does the fact that the Babadook is so obviously a metaphor for the mother character’s grief after losing her husband in a car wreck make the film less interesting? Or perhaps that’s its strength and why so many people connect with it. Either way, the film seems to have garnered many fans who love it and just as many who find it too obvious as to what Kent is saying. (Oddly, when Andy first saw the film, he completely ignored any readings of the film and watched it only for what it was, and seeing it that way didn’t work that well for him.) What it does do, however, is allow for interesting conversations about grief after watching it, so perhaps it’s a win no matter how you see it.
But assuming you get past the grief metaphor, what about the way the mother and child are written? It’s a difficult duo to connect with because we’re asked to join Amelia seven years after she’s lost her husband and she’s a mess. She also isn’t a great parent – Samuel, who’s about to turn seven – is aggressive, violent, and uncontrollable. He often seems like he’s more in charge than she is. But is that a bad thing if they’re written this way and we can’t connect? Or does it force us to find a way to sympathize with them? (No matter how you slice it, though, six-year-old Noah Wiseman delivers as strong a child performance in a horror film as Danny Pintauro did in Cujo.)
These two elements seem to largely be the things that keep audiences from really connecting with The Babadook. If you can get into the metaphor and if you can connect with the characters, you’ll likely love this ride. If you can’t truck with one or both of these, however, you may struggle a bit more with the film.
And that’s where we sit.
That’s not to say we didn’t like The Babadook.
Kent clearly has a handle on her directing style. The Babadook looks great. She uses creative transitions. We feel completely in this world and it works well. The character design of Mister Babadook, done with practical effects and patterned in part after Lon Chaney in London After Midnight, is terrifying. And honestly, there may be elements that we each struggle with but we still find it an effective ride.
So to that end, should we count this as a win? We think so. It’s a strong first film and clearly shows her vision as a storyteller. Plus, it allows for an exciting conversation. We have a great time digging into this one, so check it out then tune in. The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!
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When the movie ends, our conversation begins.
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