Okay, this is a little awkward pacing-wise. The posts were originally framed out into three parts. However, I had so much to say about The Babadook that I simply had to post one today to keep things a bit more manageable for readers. It reminds me of back when Another Day, Another Movie posts would actually be one per movie. Maybe with my getting back into a rhythm will return ADAM posts to their former glory.
Anyway, on with the movies.
Night Thirteen: Frenzy
“You’re not wearing your tie.”
This Hitchcock thriller is horror in the loosest sense of the word. Featured on the They Shoot Zombies, Don’t They list of 1000 Greatest Horror films, this is the story of a sexual maniac serial killer before they were featured on sweeps week for every crime show on television… and there are somewhere around 25,625 of said shows currently on the air at last count.
Anyway, whatever genre you’re comfortable calling this movie, it sure is fucking beautifully filmed. This is Hitchcock’s second to last film, one of only two he did in the 70’s. It was strange seeing Hitchcock’s fingerprints all over a 70’s film. Hitch reveled a bit in the ability to take things much further in the climate of the decade than he could earlier in his career.
Apparently, Hitchcock had just had two duds critically and commercially that made people wonder if he’d just gotten too old and tired to perform cinematic magic anymore. Frenzy was almost universally seen as a return to form, and it’s easy to see why. As is always the case when he’s at his best, the entire movie is amazing to look at, but there are also several scenes that are so wonderfully crafted and executed that it literally makes me a little giddy just to watch. I love watching people do something they are great at, and no one has been better than Hitch.
I didn’t realize when I put the list together that this is the second film this year with a screenplay written by Anthony Shaffer (The Wicker Man). Just like The Wicker Man the screenplay is mostly enjoyable, but features some notable holes that were large enough to be a bit frustrating. Also, this movie had a strange, very old school British obsession with how terrible anything gourmet is (which includes scratch margaritas for some reason). It was used to color all the exposition scenes, but was distractingly small-minded.
Also of note, it’s amazing how much changed between the reception of Peeping Tom in 1960 and Frenzy in 1972. This went much, much further and was not decried as the downfall of Western civilization by critics like Peeping Tom was.
Night Fourteen: The Babadook
“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.
I’ll wager with you
I’ll make you a bet.
The more you deny,
The stronger I get.
You start to change when I get in.
The Babadook growing right under your skin.“
Of the several films from this year’s list released over the last 18 months, this one had the most buzz and critical fanfare around it. A 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. 86 (Universal Acclaim) on Metacritic. Folks were not ambiguous in their feelings about this one. That can set up the potential for a huge disappointment, which is what happened for me when I watched The Conjuring last year. In the case of The Babadook, disappointment was the farthest thing from my reaction. I loved everything about this film, and in so many ways it exceeded my expectations.
First, a description, after that it will be spoiler time. The story is about a widowed single mother trying to hold her life together in the midst of grief, loneliness, depression, anxiety, and intense insomnia. One night when her son gets to pick the bedtime story he hands her a book called Mister Babadook. Things don’t get better when that happens.
The set design and art direction are perfect. Essie Davis’s performance is amazing. Most importantly, The Babadook is an amazing allegory about denial, grief, isolation, and mental illness. It’s deeply sad and troubling and features some scenes that will bother you, especially if you don’t normally watch this genre. With that warning given I think people should see this film in the context of conversation to help them better understand the reality of struggling with mental illness, grief, and trauma or those who love people struggling with those things.
As someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, and severe insomnia, as well as being someone who grew up as a child with too many parallels to Samuel, this film was both difficult and therapeutic. The last time I felt this much deep internal connection between my own childhood and the thematic territory of a film was Where the Wild Things Are.
Now it gets spoilery. I hope you’ll read it anyway, or even better, go watch the movie and then read it.
Primarily, this film is about the honesty and surrender necessary when dealing with grief, trauma, depression, etc. Since that is the primary issue I deal with in life, the dark heart of so much of my weakness and powerlessness and struggle, this film immediately feels close to my heart and life.
When I wrote about Pan’s Labyrinth earlier in the Fest, I mentioned that Story can collude with two different types of escape. There is the sort where we use Story as an escape from unchangeable circumstances, a reprieve into fantasy and imagination. Then there is the sort where Story collaborates with us in an escape in which we are actually able to flee mental prisons and thought patterns, to break out from the limitations of our own habits and assumptions that actually makes new things possible for us. I’m hoping that The Babadook can be another partner in crime for me in my escape past the walls and guards and barbed wire of my own mental landscape.
This allegory is amazingly astute. Amelia won’t surrender to the reality of her grief and trauma, she keeps her memories locked away in the basement, she can’t bare to look directly at the darkness. Whenever we keep things in the shadows and closets of our lives they continue to grow scarier and darker, they emerge as shapeshifting black monsters that stalk and hound us, change us, isolate us, torture us, even make us dangerous to the ones we love.
Amelia’s shame keeps her isolated. It keeps her from differentiating from the vapid idiots who are incapable of empathizing with or hearing her at all from the people who genuinely care for her and want to help her.
The monster is always far scarier when we won’t look at it. The mental space it takes up as we try to pretend it isn’t there is far larger than the space it takes up when we face it.
Don’t deny the Babadook. We can’t get rid of it, we must learn to live with its presence. The task, and it is a considerable one, is to face it. There will be times we must rage against the Babadook, tell it how small it is. There will be times when we must make peace with it, feed it and calm it, shush it and tell it everything will be okay. These are the things Amelia is forced to do to save her son from the monster, and it is what we must do when we face these monsters of our own. It will always be scary to face, time will never remove all of its teeth and claws, it will always try to frighten and intimidate us. The filmmakers of The Babadook have created a totem we can use to steady us for carrying this burden, a burden which is always heavier when we resist it. I’m genuinely grateful for their work.