Director & Screenwriter: Jennifer Kent // Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West, Tim Purcell.
Review: In a horror-drama crammed with unsettling moments, The Babadook’s most nimbly wielded weapon is the fleeting but resonant savageness with which it depicts a mother struggling to love their child. It’s a concept that director Jennifer Kent arguably employs to emulsify the two genres her feature film debut works within; part kitchen sink character study, part haunted house freak show. The film’s first half is understandably earnest and dialogue-driven as Kent takes care to convey the everyday exasperation of single mother Amelia (played by the extraordinary Essie Davis), who lives an anxious life in the Australian suburbs and while in mourning for her husband seven years after a bid to rush her and their unborn child to the maternity ward resulted in a fatal car crash.
A superstitious eccentric with a skill for crafting Home Alone-style artillery, her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is a sweet but stubbornly errant loner who can rarely go a night without crawling into his mother’s bed. Deprived of sleep – with Kent fast-forwarding through the few hours she does indulge in to exacerbate the interminable nature of her day-to-day – Amelia insists on not only looking after her son’s needs, but also those of her elderly neighbour (Barbara West) and the geriatrics she tends to at a nursing home each day. Both her and Samuel look forward to reading a children’s story at the end of a long day, that is until the sudden appearance of a grisly but beautifully crafted pop-up book entitled Mister Babadook captures the darkest recesses of Samuel’s imagination.
Sketched in charcoal, the book’s eponymous character is a behatted sycophant with sharp, spindly fingers and a manic expression; his murderous behaviour relayed in playground-friendly couplets: “Take heed of what you’ve read… / Once you see what’s underneath / You’re going to wish you were dead”). As Samuel’s palpably felt obsession with the monster grows, Amelia’s professional and personal relationships begin to crumble, and it is the ensuing mental and physical self-isolation that becomes the cue for Kent to flex her flair for evoking moods of near-suffocating dread. There is an admittedly awkward shift from dramatic realism to conventional horror tropes as the impact of illogical reactions take effect, but this is small price to pay for the thought-provoking thrills stashed away in the film’s latter half.
Refusing to settle for cheap jump scares in order to rile up its audience, The Babadook is at its best when suggesting the monster’s existence in surprisingly rational ways. Think you’re safe at a police station in the day time? Kent implores you to think again. The exquisitely dull colours of Amelia’s home, bristling sound design (the scrape of the book’s pop-up appendages against paper, the creaky-floorboard growl of the Babadook itself), and a singular but magnificently unexpected burst of gore will have your skin practically ushering the film underneath it.
With the tumultuous relationship between Amelia and Samuel realised in affecting detail, The Babadook is a uniquely cerebral horror and a promising calling-card for Kent. Even if her obvious talents remain just a tad raw, as her film’s ending suggests, there is truly nothing a little nurturing cannot fix.
Director: John Michael McDonagh // Screenplay by: John Michael McDonagh // Distributor: Entertainment One // Release Date: April 11th (UK) // Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, Pat Shortt, Aiden Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson.
Review: It’s rather galling just how inevitable the subject of child abuse has become when discussing priests, with accounts of unspeakable brutality echoing through the minds of a generation at the mere mention of the catholic church. In a move indicative of his film’s often stifling self-awareness, director John Michael McDonagh practically herds the expected elephant into the room with a parade in Calvary’s opening scene, when community cornerstone Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears out one man’s childhood trauma during an anonymous confession. With the perverted priest responsible for these acts now dead, his unseen victim vows to kill Father James in a week. Bemused, and with this rendezvous on the periphery of his mind, Father James keeps himself busy aiding the roster of eccentrics that populate his rural Irish town.
The plot holds promise, but Calvary craves a crackling energy in place of the dead air that haunts too many of its scenes. Some of these just about coast by on the charisma of established Irish actors turning in reductive variations of their established schtick, from Pat Shortt’s salty everyman routine to Aiden Gillen’s inky misanthropy. Other supporting players either lack conviction (such as a curiously flat Chris O’Dowd) or are ill-served by portentous characterisation (Dylan Moran’s oily banker seems tailor-made to give viewers left embittered by the recession an excuse to hurl their drinks at the screen.) McDonagh’s script holds some cute observations – most of which pertain to Father James’s interactions with either his dog, or M. Emmet Walsh’s crusty writer – but is largely comprised of turgid pseudo-philosophical babble that goes nowhere. Father James’s visiting daughter (Kelly Reilly), meanwhile, exists only so he can contradict her cynicism with cloying wisdom.
Just as his character is a guiding light to a town full of misfits, Gleeson remains the film’s one true saving grace. Earthy and affable, he navigates the film’s episodic structure and tonal inconsistencies with a strong screen presence. The universal praise he’s been receiving for his performance will ensure vehicles more proportional to his talent are a distinct possibility, but for the almost thankless task of carrying Calvary, he will forever be in our prayers.
Director: Juan Antonio Bayora // Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor // Plot: The true story of how one family – mother Maria (Naomi Watts), father Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) – survived the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 during their Christmas break to the region.
Review: With the carefully endorsed authenticity of this story still fresh in our minds thanks to an opening placard, a deep, low-end rumbling intensifies to the point of discomfort. It’s an unnerving moment, no doubt, but for this viewer, it made for a very exciting opening. This is a sound synonymous with dread and expectation. As anyone who has sat through a Paranormal Activity film will tell you; this is the sound of something actually happening.
It is also the first of many confrontations with The Impossible’s incredible sound design. Ominous tones are laced throughout, with a clear emphasis on every crunch and shock absorbed by the bodies of our ravaged protagonists. It is at times overwhelming in its desolation, so much so that when the inevitably shimmering piano does make an appearance, it is with heartfelt relief rather than a rolling of the eyes.