When there is no atmosphere what is left?
Written By: Jennifer Kent
Directed By: Jennifer Kent
Perhaps I had heard too much hype surrounding The Babadook. That’s one possible explanation for why I didn’t much care for this ballyhooed horror film. The few cinephiles who I still interact with had given the movie almost universal praise. I had even come across some reviews that heralded the film as a game changer in the world of horror. With those qualifiers in place there was little chance for The Babadook to do anything but disappoint.
The thing is though, remove all the hype and I’m not convinced The Babadook is a good movie, let alone a good horror film. There’s not much in this film to get worked up over, good or bad. It’s the very definition of “just a film” and that is most likely what damns the movie the most. There’s no hook to The Babadook, no element that made me think Jennifer Kent’s film stood out from the rest.
The lack of atmosphere in the film is a major obstacle in my enjoyment. It’s a glaring negative against the film that there’s no discernible atmosphere. There are horror beats that are hit, but they are only elements within the film. There’s no sense of dread, foreboding, or danger of any sort for the elements to reside within. That’s never good for a horror film, where atmosphere can make or break what you’re seeing. The fact that Kent is so willing to let her film just sit on the screen and not emit any sort of atmosphere is an odd decision that kept me quite removed from the proceedings of the film.
Another major obstacle for me was the predictability of the screenplay. Of course she will throw away the book only for it to be returned. Of course the child will get into a fight with someone and hurt them. Of course Kent has to be extremely lazy and use a dog as a way for the audience to know that evil is afoot. It’s not just predictable writing, it’s lazy writing. The sort of writing that holds the horror genre back and ultimately gives horror film a bad reputation.
Without atmosphere and with an air of predictability I had problems caring about what happens in The Babadook. In the end I didn’t really care to question whether Amelia was dealing with inner demons or facing an actual demon. The ambiguity of the narrative is fine, but there’s no impetus for me to care about the quandary the screenplay seems to think is a very important subtext. Of course this is another area where the predictability of the script becomes an albatross from which the narrative can not escape.
I realize I’m in the minority when it comes to The Babadook. I’m okay with where I reside though, because I expect my horror to be more than what The Babadook has to offer. The truth of the matter is that there are plenty of great horror films being released every year. I have no idea why people latched onto the flat and uninspired entry in the horror annals that is The Babadook. But they did and that’s why I have been put into the position of being an opposing voice. I love horror, and I really love high quality horror. That most certainly does not describe The Babadook, and that’s why this is one mediocre horror film that was better left on the cutting room floor.