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Director: Jennifer Kent
Writers: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Length: 93 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master 5.1 and 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Jennifer Kent’s short film Monster
- Behind-the-Scenes Footage
- Interview with Illustrator Alex Juhasz
- Theatrical Trailer
If it’s in a word, or a look, you can’t get rid of the BaBaDook. There is something undeniably chilling about that sentence. It is the same chill that is consistently delivered throughout the whole of Jennifer Kent’s debut film The Babadook. Utilizing very little beyond the imagination, Kent crafted what was to become one of the best films of 2014, one which captured the imagination of horror fans worldwide. When IFC snagged the US distribution rights for the film, I was all but certain that it would have a limited theatrical run and subsequently find its way onto a modest but unimpressive Blu-Ray release. Thankfully, I was wrong because today marks the release of Scream Factory’s collaboration with IFC bringing us one of most impressive new releases of the year, one that is sure to please.
If you are anything like me, the name The Babadook was instantly somewhat of a turnoff. I don’t know what it is. There is something vile about it but at the same time something silly, almost childish. This, however, is exactly why the title is perfect: because it is the manifestation of both the ugliness of our trauma and of a child’s darkest imagination. It is fear, pain come to life. In my introduction to an interview I conducted with Jennifer Kent, I said The Babadook is, “a slice of life film, only the slice is more of a slash and—in spite of the fantastical elements of the film—life, here, feels truer. We have become accustomed to accepting cinematic reality as the mundane, but is that the truth? Is life so washed out, so monotonous that all elements of darkness must be eradicated?” While I agree with what I said in that assessment, I think I missed an important element of the film: the dark fairy tale aspect. Sure, the film works because it feels real but it also works because everything we see is anything but real. The house is a set; the decorations defy our sense of time, blending the past with the present. The film’s color is intentionally shaded in a slightly unrealistic manner. All of these elements form Kent’s grim tale about motherhood.Seven years after her husband dies in a tragic car accident, Amelia remains a single and alienated mother. Her son, Robbie, is an over-active and troublesome child. He tests Amelia’s patience, and his behavior only grows more severe when a mysterious children’s book suddenly shows up in his room one night. The book depicts a gruesome and savage creature known only as the babadook. It is not long before the acts depicted in the story begin to replicate in Amelia’s life, and the mother and son find themselves having to face their past if they have any hope for a future.
Even at its darkest, there is a sweetness beneath The Babadooks‘s story. While Kent attacks taboos revolving around motherhood — principally the idea that a mother must always love her child — the film’s power comes from the bond between Amelia (Essie Davis) and Robbie (Daniel Henshall). Ultimately, without spoilers, it is love that allows the pair to overcome the powers that aim to tear them apart. In the hands of a less capable director, the film could have been quite trite. But, Kent takes to the film with a rare sense of vigor. Everything is beautifully crafted and glued together. The result is one of the most powerful cinematic debuts in some time.Every year there is one, or maybe two, horror films that shake our community to its very core. In 2014, that film was undeniably The Babadook. Immediately following its first couple runs on the festival circuit, the critical sphere erupted with joy. The film received almost unanimous praise. Genre writers wrote about how the horror world had finally found its new classic, while even non-Horror writers were drawn to the film’s style, and mesmerized by its tone. The coverage hit its climax when famed director William Friedkin announced via twitter that The Babadook was the scariest film he had ever seen. Everything was set for The Babadook’s to be a success.
However, as they do, it was not long before naysayers peaked their heads around the corner. What was the reason for this newfound dislike? The Babadook’s lack of gore, its innocuous ending, or maybe the fact that it is a film centered around an aging female protagonist and is interested in issues surrounding motherhood? I think the backlash is a combination of these things but, most of all, The Babadook simply fell victim to its own hype. Hype manifests hate, often simply for the sake of hatred. But haters be damned because The Babadook is one of the most demanding and engaging horror films of the 21st century. It is a film that respects its viewer, never demeaning our intelligence, letting its atmosphere slowly seep into our very being. It is a deeply disturbing, tragic, and yet heartwarming film. The Babadook is a film about motherhood, a film that has mothered one of horror’s most promising new talents, Jennifer Kent.
Shot digitally on the Alexa, the Blu-Ray looks as good as you’d expect. The rather dark film retains a sense of clarity and sharpness, even despite its low contrast color scheme. There aren’t any signs of digital compression present.
Similar to the video, the audio is finely maintained and clear. One problem is that the film does fall victim to one of the most aggravating trends in new audio mixes, which is a complete unbalance between dialogue and sound design, leaving the viewer in a non-stop game of volume tag.
Let me be the first to say it (realistically I am not the first, but let’s pretend I am), the packaging on this Scream Factory release is one of the most ingenious and impressive designs in recent memory. Taking the layout of the book, Scream Factory has delivered The Babadook complete with a popup slip case. For all of those who weren’t able to afford the The Babadook book that came out a few months ago, take solace in this release, it is your new friend. In addition to the fantastic packaging, the extra that I found to be the most exciting was Jennifer Kent’s debut short film, Monster, which served as the point of influence for The Babadook. Speaking of the inspiration for The Babadook’s relation to motherhood, Jennifer Kent told Diabolique that “It started with a short [Monster] that I had made, but in terms of the feature I really wanted to go deeper. I wanted to explore what it is like for someone who hasn’t faced something in a very long time to have to face it.” That is exactly the impression you get when watching Monster. Almost everything that is developed in Monster is built upon in The Babadook. It is a really strong short that is fascinating in relation to the feature. Other than Kent’s short film, this release features numerous interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that are captivating for those wondering how the film managed to look so big with such a small budget.
The Babadook earned a place on my top five films of 2014 for a reason. Even after three viewings it remains chilling, absorbing, and thought provoking. Every time I watch it, I find something new to love. It may not be a perfect film but it is one that, even in its flaws, is challenging. When I heard that Scream Factory was offering the Blu-Ray release it was a fine day, because I knew that the film would receive the classic treatment deserving of a modern classic. Well, Scream Factory didn’t let us down in that regard. While it is only April, it is safe to say that this will easily be one of the best releases of the year.