Babadook (MNM)

Rating:

MAGIC TRICKS

Main Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman

Director: Jennifer Kent

When Normy and I arrived at LaGuardia, there was some sort of mix-up.  Rather than the private Lear jet that we had assumed would whisk us back to Los Angeles, we found two coach tickets on Delta airlines, and not even direct but rather with a stopover in Atlanta.

The first leg of the flight, other than the unwashed and somewhat aromatic older man in the window seat, was uneventful.  I was even recognized by the delightfully fey flight attendant who proceeded to sing one of my more famous numbers from my MGM film Winter Bouillon up and down the aisle.  I was so tickled that I gave him a signed 8 by 10 and he gave us complimentary rum and cokes, and kept them coming.

Normy and I ended up stumbling off the plane at Hartsfield and due to the little numbers on the departures sign jumping around and refusing to stay in one place long enough for us to focus on them, we missed our connecting flight and could not be rebooked until the next morning.  We decided to make the most of our unexpected little stop over and hired a limousine and driver to show us the sites of the town.  Our first stop was the Martin Luther King Jr. house and church.  As the queen of Hollywood, I had to salute the king so I leapt out of the car to do one of my famous tap routines up and down the stairs of the church.  I attracted quite the crowd before the last triple time step was over.  I must have been absolutely sensational as they were too much in awe to even applaud.

Margaret_Mitchell_House_by Elisa.rolle

This house is the perfect MNM backdrop!

From there, we were off to the Margaret Mitchell house where I took one look at that lovely veranda and just knew I needed to be photographed there with crinoline, parasol and mint julep.  The driver did not have these things in the car so Normy thoughtfully telephoned CNN who agreed to meet us there bright and early in the morning to do a little ‘Wake up with MNM’ segment for Headline News.  In the meantime, we headed off to the Westin for a little sleep and to get ready for a big day tomorrow.  I climbed into a peignoir, we stretched out on the king size bed (unfortunately without magic fingers) and we searched through the Netflix offerings.

We settled on the Australian horror movie from last year, The Babadook, which had made a bit of a splash on the independent and festival circuit.  We had heard some good things about it from horror aficionados so decided to give it a whirl.  Besides, at a crisp 90 minutes, it would leave me plenty of time for me to get my required beauty sleep before tomorrow’s shoot.  The Babadook is one of those psychological horror films that relies more on flickering light bulbs, odd camera angles, and a plethora of shadows in which anything might be hiding than the blood and guts so common to the torture porn that passes for horror movie making these days.

It stars Essie Davis as Amelia, a young widow who lives with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is nearly seven and who appears to be somewhat psychologically disturbed.  He has behavioral problems at school, screams and cries without major provocation, and is terrified of the things that lurk in the dark under beds and in closets.  Even Amelia’s sister, Claire (Hayley McElhinney) who wants to be supportive has a hard time being around the little family.  It turns out that Amelia’s husband and Samuel’s father was killed in a traffic accident driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to Samuel and Amelia conflates her grief and her love for her son in odd ways.  One day, Samuel asks his mother to read him a bed time story and chooses an odd and somewhat creepy pop-up book with Edward Goreyesque illustrations about a monster, the Babadook (so named for the noise it makes) which comes out of the shadows of closets and under beds to attack unsuspecting children.  The book sends Samuel into caterwauls of fear and his mother, knowing a bad thing when she sees it, rips the book up.  She is disconcerted when the book reappears glued back together and with additional pages that suggest she has grisly things in store for her.  Thus begins a battle between mother, son and an unseen force which may be supernatural or may just be the product of their own psyches, damaged as they are by their tragic history plus garden variety mental illness.

The film, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, begins promisingly enough.  Quickly and effectively setting up a visual language and tone of foreboding that draws the viewer in.  Although it’s in color, the palette is so muted and gray that it almost feels like black and white.  The brave performances of the two leads (and it’s practically a two person film – all the other characters are at best extended cameos) draw us in and keep us hooked.  Young Mr. Wiseman in particular gives a very brave performance, probably the best of a child in this sort of film since the heyday of Hayley Joel Osment.  When the major confrontations come in the third act, unfortunately, the film sort of goes off the rails.  It tries to explain and physicalize too much as if Ms. Kent doesn’t trust us to understand that the worst monsters are those that we carry within ourselves.  The film it reminds me of the most is Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others with Nicole Kidman that was a major success some fifteen years ago.  It has many of the same underlying themes of isolation and madness.

The Babadook is Ms. Kent’s first outing as a feature writer/director and a promising start.  She has a way of getting unlikeable characters to connect with her audience, understands that true horror comes from what you don’t see and knows that less is more.  I hope the film is a big enough success to ensure she continue to get chances to seeing more of Essie Davis.  Noah Wiseman, if he wishes to continue acting as he grows up, has made a brilliant debut and will hopefully avoid the many traps awaiting young performers.  If it comes up on your Netflix queue, check it out.

Distorted car accident.  Pop up illustrations.  Bingo calling. Twin dolls.  Gratuitous worm digging.  Magic tricks.  Melies film dream sequence.  Unseen force.  Black vomit.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

Photo of Margaret Mitchell house by Elisa.rolle

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