2014 – A single mother believes she is being stalked by “Mr. Babadook,” the sinister character from one of her son’s storybooks.
I’m no stranger to kooky foreign films – I mean, I’ve seen Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. They’re fun! The people may look funny and wear unconventional clothes, but you can usually find a few moments that will keep you grounded (like when the fat guy from Dead Snow says, “I’m going for a shit”).
Unless, of course, you’re watching one of those really foreign foreign films where everyone acts weird and you’re completely baffled by the plot. The Babadook, an Australian-Canadian psychological horror film, falls into that category. I was lost. Perhaps the melding of two such alien cultures was too much for me. For one thing, I could have done with a few subtitles. Half the dialogue consists of a truly disturbing-looking little Australian boy yelling, “Mem! Mem! Is thees theh Bahbahduk? Theh Bahbahduk deed eet, Mem! Mem! Ees eet undah theh beed?”
As close as I can figure it, the movie is about a woman named Amelia (Essie Davis), who lives in a depressing Tim Burton-type town where all the buildings are old and the people dress in muted grays and blues and have rings under their eyes. Her husband got killed in a car accident (which is no surprise since the cars everyone drives are rattling shit-heaps), so she’s stuck with her truly awful son Sam, pronounced “Sem” or “Syyym” (Noah Wiseman).
It seems that in the rest of the world, every little boy is required to wear the following uniform: clompy lace-up shoes, knee-high socks, shorts, and any combination of oversize sweater, tie, and blazer. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Sam, however, is the kind of child you’d want to be cruel to. He’s highly annoying, screaming and writhing about and detested by every other child and adult in the movie, including his own mother. He makes dangerous “anti-monster” weapons and brings them to school. Amelia understandably wants to kill him.
There are almost two movies going on here. One movie is about a depressed mom and her mutant boy being picked on by the town’s more attractive, normal populace. The difference between our beleaguered “heroine” and everyone else is so drastic that it verges on parody. When Amelia visits her sister’s house, it’s bright, spotless, and populated by the Hot Bitchy Mom Quintet. Amelia’s house, meanwhile, is a cluttered, shadowy dump.
The other movie has a monster in it. Unflinchingly polite (it always knocks before entering) and unhealthily pale, Mister Babadook is the sort of vague, Canadian-ish monster that can be defeated by yelling at it loudly enough. But like a typical Australian, the thing shows up uninvited, loafs around the house, tries to kill the dog, and does unfunny impressions of the dead husband (these are all things I assume most Australians do – I’m basing it on information gleaned from watching Flight of the Conchords).
The Babadook arrives after Amelia reads Sam its traumatizing, self-published popup book. I won’t spoil exactly what happens because, let’s face it, I can’t. I have no idea what is going on. Why are there so many coats and hats hanging against the wall to provide false scares? What’s up with the palsied old woman next door? How come the monster seems really flexible and fast sometimes, but other times like empty clothes draped over a wooden frame mounted on a skateboard?
Maybe I’m just not cosmopolitan enough to understand this kind of art-house fare. At least it’s better than Life Is Beautiful.