Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Cat in the Hat it's not

And now for some Down Under horror. Cinema Detroit Friday opens with The Babadook, writer-director Jennifer Kent’s take on a spectre that frightens the hell out of a mother and her son. Amelia (Essie Davis), seven years after a car accident that killed her husband Oskar (Ben Winspear), is trying to raise a troublesome son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) given to an overfed imagination which makes him almost uncontrollable. It’s almost a nightmare, shall we say, for a struggling single mom trying to make her way as a low wage nursing home personal support worker. Noah runs around with his homemade dart gun, fancies himself a magician with powers bordering on the fantastic. “Life can be a wondrous thing but it can also be very treacherous!” he mimics a learn-magic video. One night he asks his mom to read him Mister Babadook, a pop-up book showing a hideous creature with a top hat and claw like hands threatening a young boy. “See him in your room at night and you won’t sleep a wink,” says the text. It gets worse: “take heed of what you’ve read…and you’re going to wish you were dead.” Well! You can image what this does to a boy who already has over-the-top fantasies. In subsequent days and nights strange happenings occur. Amelia finds glass in the food. Long dead Oskar’s suit is hung as if he’s still in it. The growl-like sound, and silhouetted images of the claw-like hands, of “Mister Babadook” appear out of the shadows. Electric lights flicker on and off. (You know the drill.) Amelia tears up the book but it reappears on her doorstep. Now the text’s lines are deadlier and depict her strangling her son and slitting her throat. She sets fire to the book. Like in the best horror films the plot gets scarier and scarier. Mom and son battle the Babadook. But that’s not the only battle going on, and I won’t describe the others. Let’s just say they have to do with the backstory. Indeed The Babadook can be read as a fill-in for various fears: the loss of a husband, the fact the boy can’t really grow until he celebrates a birthday on its real date (his dad died driving his mom, in labor, to hospital). The movie speaks to a type of primal force that afflicts anyone struggling with lack of closure and unmet needs, both of which afflict Amelia and Samuel. The two actors work well together and Davis is especially good, nonplussed by some of the seemingly clichéd horror roles she’s thrust into. And, yes, there are three scenes (I counted) that will definitely give you the shivers or worse. But note to parents: Mister Babadook, despite its seemingly The Cat in the Hat look, is not the kind of thing you want to read to your six year old, not least of all because it’ll probably be weeks before you can get him out of your bed.

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