Tag Archives: Daniel Henshall

The Babadook (2014)

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How do you review a horror film that has excellently creepy buildup, but you’re just not feeling the ending? That was the question posed to me as the credits of “The Babadook” rolled. The be fair, it’s not a new dilemma- so many horror movies have awesome first halves and just kind of fall apart in the finale, but I felt the pain of this missed opportunity more keenly because the first portion of the movie was so damn good, a slitheringly sinister maternal nightmare topped by a great performance by Essie Davis.

Davis plays Amelia, a browbeaten widow and mother of a severely emotionally damaged six-year-old boy, Samuel (Noah Wiseman, who valiantly manages to mostly live up to the script’s demanding expectations.) Amelia works at a rest home and lives a decidedly stressful working-class existence. She cannot pretend that her son doesn’t add significantly to her multitude of worries, but she loves him with the fierce love of a mother who does all she can to raise her son . She is sexually frustrated. She looks perpetually bedraggled.

Amelia is romanced by a co-worker (Daniel Henshall), but she’s afraid to let him in, and when he comes by the house with flowers the kid scares him away. Samuel is expelled from school when he brings a homemade weapon, but things get really bad with mysterious arrival of a seriously disturbing children’s’ book The Babadook, which Amelia ill-advisedly reads to her so without really knowing what it’s about. Samuel and his mother are quickly taken over by dark forces, and under the Babadook’s watchful eyes Amelia starts making a horrifying transformation from supermom to mommie dearest.

The buildup in this film is exceptional- the dark palate and use of eerie editing and imagery propel the movie past typical horror fare, as well as the excellent character development. Amelia is not a perfect woman or mother, but she is an admirable one. Although she has never gotten over the death of her beloved husband, she raises Samuel as best she can in a increasingly forboding environment. Samuel puts you in a position somewhere between ‘wanna tell him it’s all going to be all right, even if it isn’t’ and ‘wanna strangle him,’ and Noah Wiseman plays on this balance effectively. You sorta want to hug him, you sorta want to hit him- in other words, he’s more of a typical child than you might think.

However, the scenes where the possessed Amelia chases Samuel around the house as he tries to fight her with his homemade crossbow are slapsticky enough to put the viewer in mind of a particularly dark “Home Alone.” (Admittedly, “Home Alone” was dark to begin with, but it got nothing on this.) Yes, folks- it seems that when the film hits it’s crescendo, all subtlety goes out the window. Which it a frickin’ shame, because the film up to then is outstanding. The ending doesn’t really work, but after a sub-par supernatural showdown  that isn’t really a big surprise.

Overall, “The Babadook” doesn’t work as well as it should but is still helluva a lot better than standard horror fare. The actors excel in their roles, the sense of fear is palpable but things get a little silly in the last twenty minutes, and isn’t that a shame. I still think the film is worth a watch for horror fans. It’s not half bad, but I guess after all the hype, I just set my expectations too high.

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The Snowtown Murders (2011)

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Based on a series of gruesome real-life killings that occurred from 1992-1999 in Australia, “The Snowtown Murders” is an often annoyingly confusing but also creepily compelling thriller that takes it’s subject matter seriously rather than exploit it for cheap shock value. Which is not to say “The Snowtown Murders” is not shocking. It is the story of how an entire town is beguiled by an unhinged psycho, and how that psycho takes an abused boy under his wing and melds him into his protege.

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Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) is an underprivileged Aussie teenager who has pretty shit luck all around. He and his younger brothers are sexually abused by his mom’s boyfriend Jeffrey (Frank Cwiertniak,) and his thuggish older brother Troy (Anthony Groves) rapes him. His mom (Louise Harris) loves her sons but also seems to be unable to rise to the occasion of parenting them. Then she leaves Jeffrey and is introduced to John (Daniel Henshall,) who initially seems to be the full package- good-looking, charming, and great with the kids.

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But something seems a bit ‘off’ about John. He talks constantly about torturing and killing child molesters. I mean, it’s foolproof, right? No one wants to be the one to contradict him. Everyone hates pedos, but John’s rants seem quite obviously to be a part of an obsession. And he’s a man of action, John is. He’s got charts and posters all over his house tracking sex offenders. Then people start disappearing.

Not just sex offenders. Jamie’s amiable druggie friend, Gavin (Bob Adriaens.) Mom’s gay bestie, Barry (Richard Green.) And later, with Jamie’s assistance, that slow kid next door (Robert Deeble.) At first, Jamie seems horrified by the carnage going on practically on his doorstep. Horrified when John instructs him to shoot his own dog. But Jamie is sick of being the perpetual butt of abuse. He thinks becoming John’s assistant is the way to man up and put an end to taking it up the ass (all too literally.) And John is just getting started.

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The amazing thing about this cast was that all of them, besides Henshall as John and Richard Green, are non-professionals simply talked into playing in a movie. This is particularly extraordinary for Pittaway, who forces you to sympathize with his deeply damaged time bomb. Henshall has a genuine glint of malice in his eye that goes beyond ‘play-acting the psycho.’ He looks and more importantly, FEELS dangerous. The closest thing I can think to compare it to is Noah Taylor is Red, White, & Blue. I can’t think of a single actor or actress who seemed to be dragging down the cast.

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It took me a second viewing to really appreciate the movie. The first time, I found it very hard to follow. The second time, I also found it hard to follow, but less so, and I appreciated it’s unnerving combination of gritty urban realism and extreme violence. This is a thinking movie, so you have to primarily focus on it to process what is happening (no tap-tap-tapping away at your ipads, multi-taskers!) I’m glad I thought to see this a second time, even though it was a tough watch. Multiple watches might serve distractable viewers well.

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