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Babadook, The

Review by: 
Head Cheeze
Release Date: 
Shout! Factory
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Jennifer Kent
Essie Davis
Noah Wiseman
Bottom Line: 
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Man, having kids can wreak havoc on your viewing habits. It wasn’t too long ago (six years?) that I could pretty much stomach anything horror could throw at me, so long as it didn’t involve killing dogs because – well, I like dogs, dammit! Since the birth of my first son, however, I’ve found that whenever I see a kid in a horror flick, my paternal instincts kick into overdrive, and I spend the rest of the movie so overwhelmingly concerned about the child’s welfare, that I literally lose focus of everything else! It’s gotten better as my kids have gotten older, but there are still some flicks I just can’t watch with the same sort of critical, unemotional eye I once had, and The Babadook – the critically adored 2014 Australian import that does for children’s books what The Ring did for VHS tapes – is just such a film.

The Babadook focuses on Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis) – a widow juggling the raising of her troubled son, Sam (Noah Wiseman), with the demanding hours of her low-paying job as a hospital orderly. Already obsessed with an imaginary creature in his basement (against whom Sam has crafted many elaborate, Rube Goldberg-inspired weapons and traps), Sam’s also become fixated on a mysterious pop-up children’s book called Mister Babadook, which his mother had recently read to him at bedtime. When strange occurrences begin happening around the house, Sam readily blames Mister Babadook, when, to Amelia, it is clearly Sam who is responsible. Already at her wit’s end, matters are made worse when Amelia is called in to school to discuss Sam’s bizarre behavior, and, in an act of solidarity with her son, Amelia takes Sam out of school due to their lax approach to dealing with her “difficult” child. This rash decision forces Amelia to miss work, jeopardizing her sole source of income, and also attracts the unwanted attention of social services, who want to know why Sam is truant. All the while, Sam’s behavior grows increasingly more erratic, as his already unhealthy sleep patterns are made worse by his obsession with Mister Babadook. Amelia finally destroys and disposes of the book in hopes that it will curtail her son’s interest in the titular beastie, but, after an incident at his cousin’s house in which a bullied Sam pushes her out of her treehouse at her birthday party, Amelia seeks out the help of a doctor, who prescribes sedatives to help Sam and her get a decent night’s sleep.

Things seem to be calming down for the Vannicks until, one morning, Amelia hears a loud rapping at the door, and, when she opens the door to see who it is, discovers a mended copy of the Mister Babadook book on her stoop. The book also features some new, decidedly eerie entries, including images of Amelia committing horrifying acts, and verses that threaten that, until she accepts that the titular creature is real, it will grow more powerful, and, ultimately, consume her. Once again, Amelia destroys the book, this time setting it ablaze, and then turns to the police for help, insisting that someone is trying to frighten her and her son. However, seeing as she destroyed her evidence, the police ignore her pleas for help. 

It is here that Amelia, herself, begins to see The Babadook, and the creature makes good on its word.

The Babadook is a suffocating and extremely tense psychological horror film that constantly blurs the line between what is real and what is simply a result of Amelia’s exhaustion and already compromised psychological state. The first two acts of the film manage to deftly balance the quiet devastation of Amelia’s situation with the bump-in-the-night scares of rank-and-file supernatural horror flicks, which is precisely what makes these first two acts so effective. However, when the final act reveal comes around, the film goes whole-hog into Del Toro-inspired fantasy horror territory and, after a particularly harrowing scene between Amelia and Sam, finishes off with a somewhat confusing-yet-oddly satisfying denouement.

The Babadook was a very tough film to sit through for me due to reasons I explained at the outset, and while it’s certainly not a film I’ll revisit anytime soon (maybe when my kids are in high school and really pissing me off), the quality of the craftsmanship and originality of writer/director Jennifer Kent’s film is undeniable, as is the stellar performance by Essie Davis. This is one dark, moody, and unsettling little film and the kudos it has received from audiences and critics are well deserved, indeed. However, if you, like me, are already averse to “kids-in-jeopardy” fare, this will be absolute torture on your psyche. As a matter of fact, I even had to shut the film off at one point to go and read the spoilers just to see if I wanted to put myself through the emotional wringer that lay ahead!

Shout! Factory scored a major coup when they secured rights to release The Babadook in North America, and has gone all out in its presentation of the film on Blu-ray, from the stellar transfer and smorgasbord of bonus features all the way down to the awesome “pop-up” packaging that adorns this limited edition release.

The film is presented in an absolutely flawless 2.35:1 1080p transfer that is packed with fine detail, and a razor sharp image from front to back. Colors are somewhat muted in keeping with the film’s dour aesthete, but brighter primary colors really pop when the situation calls for it. This is a very dark film at times, with much of the action taking place in dimly lit interiors, and with a protagonist is not much more than a shadow, himself, but black levels are quite consistently good, and I found contrast spot on.

The  5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track is an exercise in sonic nerve shattering, as each and every bump, creak, and guttural moan of the film’s protagonist resonates with maximum impact. Shout has also included a 2.0 track, although, to be honest, I didn’t even bother with it as I knew from the first moments of the film, in which directional cues and environmental effects filled the room, that this 5.1 channel mix was going to be clearly superior.

Bonus features include a healthy collection of short-yet-substantial featurettes that cover everything from the film’s inception to a really neat look at the creation of the film’s pop-up book. There are also nearly two hours’ worth of interviews with cast and crew, a short collection of deleted scenes, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Dark, disturbing, and thoroughly unnerving, The Babadook is a very effective mashup of psychological and supernatural horror that is definitely deserving of the hype. While I’m a big wuss these days and this sort of film bothers me a lot more than it entertains, those of you who aren’t parents (or whose kids have grown up to make you sort of wish there was a Babadook around to kick them into shape) will most likely have less trouble sitting through it than I.  Shout! Factory’s presentation is absolutely fantastic across the board, loading up the film with a great collection of bonus goodies, a reference quality transfer and audio track, and some of the niftiest packaging I’ve seen in a long while. Highly recommended!

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