Sunday, April 12, 2015

Blu-ray Released - This Week on Blu-ray: April 14-21

For the week of April 14th, Shout Factory is bringing the Australian horror feature The Babadook to Blu-ray. With this feature, director Jennifer Kent makes one of the most impressive feature-length film debuts in recent memory (she got her start as an actress and has appeared in such films as Babe: Pig in the City); The Babadook is an emotionally resonant, viscerally terrifying chiller that deserves comparison with Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining - it's that good. 

Like those films, The Babadook transcends its horror trappings through a strict commitment to nuance and character, in this case Amelia Vannick (Essie Davis), a hospice-care nurse suffering from a brutal case of depression, and with good cause: still reeling from her husband's sudden death (The Babadook is light on gore, but it earns its stripes with some brief, horrifying flashes of how he died), Amelia finds herself more and more distanced from her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), whose obsession with fighting monsters makes him a social pariah at school and a source of alien, uncomfortable tension for Amelia. She can barely look at him without wanting to scream, and as her anxiety rises with the intensity of Samuel's troubles, Kent's got us, so persuasive is her aesthetic realization of postpartum stresses.

It helps, too, that Davis and Wiseman are so phenomenal as the fraught mother-son pair - if the Academy Awards didn't treat horror films like second-class citizens, both performers could have had legitimate shots at Oscar nominations. In fact, we'd be willing to watch a straight drama about their psychological battle of wills, so it's all the more impressive that when Kent shifts into full-scale terror, she's able to enrich the human drama already on display. 

See, Amelia and Samuel find a children's picture-book called Mr. Babadook (and the illustrations alone have an expressionistic menace that would give Tim Burton nightmares), and after reading it, they invoke a vicious, relentless spirit determined to claim their souls. 

The monster itself - a looming, top-hatted monstrosity that wouldn't be out of place in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - is scary (though Kent enhances its creep factor through the quick, fleeting glimpses we get of it - we never see it long enough to make rational sense of the damn thing), yet what lingers is the suspicion that it's only feeding off the psychic torment that Amelia and Samuel were already giving off. This is a brave, fearless work of art, and while some have criticized it for a third-act that bears some similarities with the end of the first Nightmare on Elm Street, Kent and her team are wise enough to adhere to their own chilling rule about the title character: "You can't get rid of the Babadook." 


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