The Babadook: Finally a Good Horror Flick for Our Generation

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Why have there been no good horror movies for the last 15 years or so? Really, ever notice that. If you make a list of the best horror movies, you usually start with Psycho, although if you really want to go retro, you can date it back to the 30’s with the original Frankenstein and Dracula. But if you move along, you get to Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, The Exorcist, The Evil Dead trilogy (a highly personal favorite of mine), The Thing. Even Roman Polanski, say what you want about the guy’s personal life, created some of the best with Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby. All of these are cornerstones of their genre, but what about past the mid-1980’s? Nothing. Nowadays, horror movies are either remakes, jump-scares, or torture porn (that’s an actual term. It applies to every movie that thinks the gorier the scarier). Even the decent ones like The Conjuring and The Decent just seem to be good versions of a bad genre.

It stinks, really. Our generation is deprived of anything of substance in horror movies. Our parents can talk about a time when The Exorcist and Jaws scared the life out of anyone who saw them. And how people would line up around the block to see them because they were just so good. We can’t say that. Only two movies have come out to almost save us and prove that wrong. They are You’re Next and Cabin in the Woods. Don’t get me wrong, both are incredibly good movies and worthy of your attention. The only problem (which isn’t that big of a problem) is that both feel so fresh because they satirize modern horror. They’re self aware and funny, knowing all the flaws of their counterparts and how to avoid them. Which is nice. But what about a traditional horror movie? Is it truly possible to make one all the way through without it being a satire, remake, or filled with jump scares and gore?

Enter The Babadook, the answer to that question and winner of my vote for greatest horror movie of the 2000’s by a mile. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, try watching The Babadook, because whatever you don’t like about horror films is not apparent in this movie.

It follows a relatively low-key plot. A mom (played powerfully by Essie Davis) is still tormented by the death of her husband seven years ago. His death is linked to her son (Noah Wiseman, an excellent newcomer), and for that, she sort of hates him. But he is a problem child who doesn’t get along with other children and makes dangerous booby traps to stop imaginary monsters, so he’s not entirely innocent. He also has trouble sleeping alone, and his mom tries everything to get him to go to sleep. One day he finds a book called Mister Babadook and asks her to read it to him.

Ever read one of those old bedtime books meant for children? You know, the really old gothic ones with nightmare-inducing images? That’s what Mister Babadook is. It’s about a thing named Mister Babadook who, if you let him into your house, he’ll never leave and torment you until you die. Already on edge from sleep deprivation, mom doesn’t like the book and becomes paranoid about it. Her son becomes obsessed with it and claims Mister Babadook is in their house. Weird things begin to happen, and we can’t tell if the mom is losing her mind, if is Babadook is real.

This is where things quickly go from eerie to scary, and the to downright terrifying. And it’s made all the more satisfying when you realize the movie is completely devoid of jump scares and gore. Just good old fashioned atmosphere and dread. But what really hammers home the fear is the emotion behind the characters. For the most part, it’s just Davis and Wiseman on screen, and both do a terrific job. Jennifer Kent, writer and director of The Babadook, makes them both equally likable and flawed. The idea that the Babadook may or may not be real is terrifying in its own right. But Kent gives it a human touch by adding in the mother/son dynamic. That’s the part that’s going to make you care if they live or not.

And as for Mister Babadook? Well, he’s easily the most terrifying movie monster to come along in ages. And another nice touch about him is that because this is a low budget independent film, all the effects in it are done through stop-motion and handmade objects. This may sound cheap, but it works because it gives it a real feeling, like you can just reach out and touch it. Like he’s right there. Which adds another layer of terror. In every frame of this movie, you feel like he’s right there, just around the corner waiting for you. He’s the reason you’re going to shut your closet door when the movie’s over.

So thank you The Babadook. Thank you for reminding the world that good horror movies can still be made. Thank you for using practical effects instead of computer effects. Thank you for presenting us with a real story with real emotion, and not just an “attractive teenagers die in blood” movie. Most of all, thank you for scaring the life out of me.

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