Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Babadook

Freaky Australian horror pic The Babadook and Tim Burton's Big Eyes debut on Blu-Ray

The element that gets lost in a lot of big budget, effects heavy horror movies is atmosphere and suspense. Many times the best horror movies are the ones with the lowest budgets, because without an exorbitant amount of money to throw at visual effects or blood and gore, filmmakers must think of creative ways to make their movie appealing. The work around of great directors is to use camera work, suspense, and atmosphere. Jennifer Kent, in her feature length directorial debut, proves to be one such director. As a result, “The Babadook” proves to be one such movie.

The plot is fairly straightforward: Mom Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in an auto accident when he was driving her to the hospital to deliver Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who is now going on seven years old. Samuel is a clever but troubled boy. None of the other parents like him. It’s a small wonder as to why, since Samuel creates weapons out of items he finds around the house.

Samuel’s big enemy is the Babadook--a burly, gnarly, shadowy figure with a rattling, gravelly voice from what can best be described as a children’s book as written by H.P. Lovecraft. Naturally Samuel thinks that the Babadook is out to get him, and it’s up to Amelia to reassure him that there are no monsters lurking under his bed. That is, until she starts to experience some strange occurrences of her own.

In scene after scene of escalating psychological dread, Kent, who also wrote the screenplay, ratchets up the terror one notch at a time. The Babadook book seems to be possessed and it portends some horrible things happening to Amelia, Samuel, and their dog. The Babadook itself seems to feed off of their fears and prey on their weaknesses. It takes a mother’s love for her son and twists it to terrify them. This is a sinister entity that is not as interested in saying “Boo!” as it is slowly driving its victims insane by using fear and intimidation. The Babadook is a callous creature, if it’s a creature at all, and its only aim is to cause suffering.

Herein lies the benefit of the minimalist approach. We never really see the Babadook all that well, and that’s a frightening thing. It comes mostly in the form of a shape, hidden by shadows in the night. Is it real, or is it a product of over active imaginations? Or both—was the Babadook invited in when it was willed into existence, so to speak, in the collective imagination of Amelia and Samuel? Sometimes the scariest monsters are the ones we don’t see, and sometimes a person is their own worst enemy by letting their guilt, fear, and other negative emotions get the best of them.

“The Babadook” reminds me of one German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s best known quotes: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” Ruminate on that while watching the movie. Buy It

The Babadook (Special Edition) [Deluxe Packaging] [Blu-ray]

Also New This Week:

Big Eyes

“Big Eyes” is based on the real life story of Margaret Keane, played in the movie by Amy Adams. Given that this is a Tim Burton movie, no doubt a lot of creative license was taken with the actual story. We’re supposed to root for the put upon protagonist, being forced against her will to sell herself short in a late 1950s and early 1960s male dominated society, and see her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) as some sort of greedy ogre, but I didn’t feel that way at all.

For starters, I do not feel bad for Margaret. The movie starts off with her taking her daughter Jane (Delaney Raye) and leaving her first husband. Right off the bat, in spite of the insipid narration from journalist Dick Nolan (Danny Huston, who in general I greatly admire and could listen to him read the phone book), we see that she is strong willed and independent. For this reason, I have a very hard time buying the babe in the woods routine she puts on for the majority of the duration of “Big Eyes,” in which she paints the “Big Eyes” paintings and Walter takes the credit. I think she was willfully complicit in the arrangement and that her own greed allowed her to continue with the charade for so many years. It wasn’t until she had enough money and decided that she also wanted credit that she turned on him.

Also, as a character, Margaret is rather bland, particularly compared with the sparkling, smiling, energetic personality of Walter. One thing “Big Eyes” makes clear is that that the success of the paintings would not have happened without Walter. He was the showman and the salesman. It was his idea to rent wall space at a local club to display the “Big Eyes” paintings. It was his idea to merchandise, and sell posters and post cards based on the paintings. He may not have had much of a talent for painting, but he had immense creative talent for marketing. They got rich because of him.

For the most part, Walter is a charming, pleasant person. He burns with passion, and it’s easy to see why so many people were drawn to him. With the exception of one scene that plays like something out of “The Shining,” and a dinner scene where he threatens to “off” Margaret, he remains civil toward her. The final part of the movie, which takes place in a courtroom and turns Walter into a buffoon, is an extremely ham-fisted attempt to dismiss Walter and make him seem ridiculous. For his part, Christoph Waltz does a good job in keeping up with all of Burton’s tone shifts in regard to Walter, but that doesn’t make it right. It plays as if they’re taking a generally good person and trying to tear him down in various cheap and petty ways.

Sure, Walter lied about the authorship of the “Big Eyes” paintings. Was that wrong? Yes—but not in regard to Margaret. It was wrong to deceive the public, but as far as Margaret goes, she was in on it too, and she got all the benefits that his marketing skills brought to them. When it comes to the deception of the “Big Eyes” paintings—at least as the way events are portrayed in the movie—they are both equally to blame. Rent It

Big Eyes

The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death

Have you ever watched a horror movie that is so incredibly unscary that every time there is potential for something to scary to happen you hope against hope that this will be the scare you’ve been waiting for? That’s pretty much the experience of watching “The Woman in Black 2: The Angel of Death.” Good title, I’ll give it credit for that. The opening shot of the camera slowly moving toward the creepy, imposing house on the marsh from the vastly superior first movie starring Daniel Radcliffe is effective enough to induce goose bumps. Sadly, the rest of the movie is a waste of time spent hoping for frights that never come. Skip It, and for a case in point of what I mean, see the paragraph below…

SPOILER ALERT, though if you read on you’ll see why it’s mostly not: There’s a moment where a young boy (Oaklee Pendergast) peeks under his bed. The camera is also under his bed, looking at him straight on. Then what looks like the dirty, decaying hand of the Woman in Black slowly reaches down and touches him on the shoulder. He zips away from under the bed and looks up to see what’s touching him. Nothing is there. At that moment, I was reminded of the very first “Treehouse of Horror” on “The Simpsons” where Lisa reads Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” to Bart. There is a moment where the narrator (voice of James Earl Jones) hears a noise in the hallway, goes to investigate it, and finds nothing. Bart says to Lisa: “You know what would have been better than nothing?...Anything!!” That pretty much sums up the viewing experience of “The Woman in Black. 2.” It’s a whole lot of nothing.

More New Releases: “Zardoz,” futuristic thriller from writer-director John Boorman and starring Sean Connery and Charlotte Rampling, loaded with insightful social commentary but it’s such bloated 70s sci-fi cheese that it’s not worth watching, which is a shame; “The Remains of the Day,” one of the best Merchant Ivory productions of all time, about a an old fashioned butler (Anthony Hopkins) and the feelings he is hesitant to share with the spirited new housekeeper (Emma Thompson) who falls in love with him; “Kidnapping Mr. Heineken,” about the 1983 abduction and ransom of the beer mogul (Anthony Hopkins); and “WWE: Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe,” a 540 minute journey about one of the most beloved wrestling superstars of the 1980s and 90s.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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