Tag Archives: the possession

Review – The Babadook (15) [2014]

Babadook - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  •  Jennifer Kent – Monster

Cast:

  • Essie Davis – The Matrix Reloaded & Revolutions, Australia, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, Assassin’s Creed
  • Noah Wiseman – The Gift
  • Tim Purcell
  • Daniel Henshall – The Snowtown Murders, Not Suitable For Children, These Final Hours, Fell
  • Benjamin Winspear – The Last Goodbye, Breeding In Captivity
  • Hayley McElhinney
  • Barbara West

Music Composer:

  •  Jed Kurzel – The Snowtown Murders, Dead Europe, Macbeth

In recent years, the ineptitude of the horror genre has been documented on this blog. The Woman In Black, The Possession and Mama did not induce enough fear into viewers and illustrated, to the point of a rule, that the horror genre has become a joke. Nevertheless, Jennifer Kent’s latest film The Babadook wonderfully proves otherwise and shows that the horror genre still has the power to terrify viewers.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

Amelia (Essie Davis) with her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), looking under the bed to make sure that no monsters are there.

  The Babadook is a low-budget Australian movie. Amelia (Essie Davis) is a nurse/carer in an old people’s home by day and a single mother the rest of the time. Her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is a difficult child who believes to the point of obsession that he sees a monster (the Babadook) in the closet. He creates improvised weapons to deal with the monster when the correct moment arises. At first, Amelia believes that Samuel’s unusually obsessive behaviour is not an in issue. But soon she realises, to her consternation, that a sinister presence might be lurking in the house…

The Babadook is a brilliant horror film that is sincerely scary. At its core, the movie is about a supernatural being haunting a house in need of renovation. But, amazingly, the movie does not fall into the current horror genre trope of quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG to quicken one’s heart rate. Instead, in a similar vein to The Shining and We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Babadook messes with one’s instincts and emotions in a very natural and unsettling way.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

Amelia reading Sam a book to help him go to sleep. Only, without realising it, she is reading to him the poetry book written by the Babadook.

The director, Jennifer Kent, does this by four means: one, through the use of discomforting poetry; two, through the use of ethereal sounds like thud, dook and the crawl of insects to build tension; three, by creating a situation whereby a mother is as fearful for her child as she is fearful of her child (and his disturbing behaviour); and, four, by inflection by making both the mother and the son, in different ways, look more and more like the Babadook as the film goes on. All four of these factors are executed exceptionally well and ensure that one feels a knot gradually tightening in their stomachs.

Undoubtedly, one would not be able to feel this way if the two lead actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, had not put in such strong performances. Yet, at the same time, both actors have been privileged with richly complex, three-dimensional characters. For this, one must applaud Jennifer Kent for writing such believable characters and a brilliantly written script in general.

A page from the Babadook's actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

A page from the Babadook’s actual book. The poetry is as fantastic as it is unsettling.

Nevertheless, the script (sadly) does not hold out for the whole of The Babadook’s 94 minutes. Arguably, the climactic scene near the end of the movie veers away from the direction that the film had seemed to be going down for more than three quarters of the film. This is a shame as the scenes near the end feel a little jarring and out of sync with the rest of the movie. In addition, the special effects look amateurish at times, which may undermine the scare element of the film. However, one should not put too much stress on these flaws because that would be to take away what is a delightfully accomplished horror film.

Over-all, The Babadook is a superb and genuinely scary horror movie. As a whole, the film is well-written, superbly acted, and deeply unsettling in a very normal way despite the supernatural element within the film. One might nitpick and say that the special effects are not great. Yet, at a time when the horror genre has become a laughing stock, Jennifer Kent demonstrates with The Babadook that there is more to the horror genre than the base (and boring) denominator of quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG, and that horror films still have the potential to scare people.

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Review – Mama (15) [2013]

Mama - title banner

Star Rating 2.5/5

Director:

Executive Producer:

Cast:

  • Jessica Chastain – The Debt, Take Shelter, Coriolanus, The Help, Zero Dark ThirtyInterstellar
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau – Headhunters, Game of Thrones, Oblivion
  • Megan Charpentier – Jennifer’s Body, Red Riding Hood, Resident Evil: Retribution, Never Ever
  • Isabelle Nélisse
  • Jane Moffat – Alphas, Come Dance With Me, An Enemy
  • Javier Botet – Rec I-III, As Luck Would Have It, Al Final Todos Mueren
  • Daniel Kash – The Dresden Files, Alphas, Split Decision

Music Composer:

  • Fernandez Velázquez – The Orphanage, Devil, The ImpossibleA Monster Calls

The Woman in Black and The Possession are testament not only to the tiredness, comical and abysmal nature of the horror genre, they also signal that ghost stories and films about possessive/evil spirits have been done so many times that they seem to no longer be capable of scaring audiences. Despite being a notch up from most other recent horror movies, Mama does little to alter this view.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother's daughters, despite their problems.

Annabel (Jessica Chastain) and Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) talking with Dr. Dreyfuss. Lucas is determined to foster his late-brother’s daughters, despite their problems.

  Mama begins with the mysterious death of Jeffrey (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in a cabin in the woods, leaving his two very young daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse), to seemingly fend for themselves. But were they alone?

  Five years later, the two girls are found, looking like wild barbarians, and are sent to live with their uncle, Lucas (also Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and his rock-chick girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain). But something else has come with Victoria and Lily; something they call ‘Mama.’

As far as horror films go, the plot for Mama is actually not bad for the first 60 of the movie’s 100 minute running time. The film may not be particularly frightening, despite a few jumpy moments, but at least it can make one’s heart-rate speed up a bit at times (which is almost novel for horror films these days).

But, disappointingly, Mama loses its way at the hour mark. Subsequently, it descends into the normal clichés and follies that are symptomatic of the genre: parts of the plot get thrown by the wayside; plot threads don’t add up; and the parts of the storyline that do work become so contrived that they might as well not work. Worse, long before the end, even the things that made the film tense and jittery lose that ability.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

Annabel concerned by what devilry has come with Victoria and Lily, and is now in the house.

The key reason for why Mama can sustain viewer’s interest for as long as it does is due to the acting and the dialogue. For once, both are acceptable by anyone’s standard (and not just in comparison to the acting and dialogue in abominations like Jennifer’s Body and The Wolfman). Unsurprisingly, Jessica Chastain holds her all as the lead character, albeit in a far more casual manner than in Zero Dark Thirty, and makes conversations about evil spirits seem mundane and normal, which is not as easy as one would think (as The Woman in Black and The Possession attest). The two young girls also perform unexpectedly decently. Lily’s behaviour is particularly weird and unsettling, yet Isabelle Nélisse makes it look nothing out of the ordinary due to her character’s peculiar circumstances.

Indeed, the only actor who is somewhat disappointing is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and for no fault of his own. Lacking the smugness of Jaime ‘the Kingslayer’ Lannister from Game of Thrones, Coster-Waldau does alright with what he is given. But his role is quite minimal and modest, meaning that his talents are largely wasted in Mama. The rest of the cast, including Jane Moffat, as Jean, Lucas’ sister, and Daniel Kash, as the suspicious Dr. Dreyfuss, have even less to do than Coster-Waldau, rendering their value to the film close to irrelevant.

However, the person with arguably the most irrelevant impact upon Mama is Guillermo Del Toro. Was he solely made executive producer to enable debutant director Andrés Muschietti to ride on the coat-tails of his 2006 Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth? Well, that and to dupe people (like me) into the cinema most probably.

There is little doubt that Mama is not a par with Pan’s Labyrinth, but it has its own music and that should be commended. The music lacks the power, depth and variety of the scores in The Lion King, The Dark Knight Rises and Lincoln, and it might be limited in range too, but at least it does not recycle the standard stringy music (followed by a sudden crescendo) that is sadly all too common in horror movies.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that 'Mama' has come to pay them a visit.

Annabel with Lily and Victoria, as they realise, with horror, that ‘Mama’ has come to pay them a visit.

  The same can roughly be said for the special effects in Mama as well. They’re not bad and, initially, whatever ‘Mama’ is can make one feel like something is crawling underneath one’s skin (which is a good thing!). But this wears out soon enough, making the effects little more than an unpleasant, immaterial sight.

  Overall, Mama is not a terrible horror film and is certainly better in every respect than The Woman in Black and The Possession. Mama shoots itself in the foot after an hour, so to speak, but at any rate, it has some suspense with passable acting and dialogue, and curious music. Nevertheless, even with all of the above and a new director, Mama underlines the exhaustion and lack of innovation in the paranormal-inclined horror genre, which has been going on for too long.

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Review – The Possession (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 1/5

Director:

  • Ole Bornedal – Nightwatch, Deliver Us From Evil, 1864

Producer:

  • Sam Raimi – Xena: Warrior Princess, Spiderman I-III, The Evil Dead

Cast:

  • Jeffrey Dean Morgan – Watchmen, Grey’s Anatomy, Red Dawn
  • Natasha Calis – Donovan’s Echo, The Firm
  • Madison Davenport – Jack and the Beanstalk, Shameless, Noah
  • Kyra Sedgwick – Man on a Ledge, The Closer, Chlorine
  • Grant Show – Melrose Place, Marmalade, All Ages Night
  • Matisyahu

In my review of The Woman in Black, I spoke of the urgent need for the horror-genre to be revamped. Too often, so-called ‘horror’ films have become formulaic and a joke. Well, unbelievably, the genre has sunk even lower due to The Possession.

Em (Natasha Calis), unaware of the evil held within the container, purchasing the ‘Dibbuk box’ at a yard sale not far from her father’s home.

The Possession is a supernatural horror movie based on a true story. (Yeah right.) Em (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport) are two young girls, whose parents are divorced. While staying with their father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), they go to a yard sale to purchase some new things for their father’s new house.

At the sale, Em comes across an old wooden box with an inscription of Hebrew writing and buys it. Little does she know, though, that the box contains a Dibbuk (Hebrew for an ‘evil spirit’). Em doesn’t find out until after she opens it. But by then it is too late, as the Dibbuk is already consuming both her soul and her flesh.

The Possession is neither scary nor interesting, thereby making the film feel a lot longer than its 92 minutes. Also, starting the movie with ‘based on a true story’ just renders the film stupid. One is generally not going to take a film seriously after watching human beings fly upside down across rooms, before smashing into walls and denting the brickwork. (Because that happens in real life, doesn’t it?)

Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) holding the ‘Dibbuk box’ while his daughters are with their mother and her new boyfriend. Clyde is trying to work out what is inside the box that could have harmed Em.

It is not as if those scenes are unique to The Possession either, as the recent The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Rite and The Devil Inside attest. Like all of those films, The Possession suffers from an embarrassing number of clichés, which seem to be endlessly recycled in (bad) horror movies. Seeing (poorly-made CGI) insects coming out of someone’s throat or hearing a young girl talking with the voice of a nasty old hag has been done so many times that it ceases to shock or scare.

Combined with these standard techniques is the reprocessed music. Usually these unoriginal scores at least make viewers’ hearts flutter and pump up their adrenaline. In The Possession, however, it doesn’t even do that. The music sometimes threatens to make one feel that he/she will be jumping out of their skin by the end of the scene. Yet, because the film builds up to a climax that invariably doesn’t happen, the non-atmospheric music is reduced to pointlessness to the extent that the scenes would have been tenser with silence.

Matisyahu, donned in full chassidic gear, reading out holy verses, hoping to exorcise the evil spirit that has possessed Em.

And in case The Possession isn’t pathetic enough, the acting is terrible and the script is even worse. Indeed, it is all so dreadful that it almost forces one to question how a donor or Sam Raimi (whose reputation has plummeted since the much-maligned Spiderman 3) could have been duped into thinking that The Possession was a film worth making. At least The Woman in Black was an adaptation from a successful theatre production, so there was an excuse for it to be made. The Possession, on the other hand, has no such strong foundation and is almost solely the result of (the lack of) imagination on behalf of Stiles White and Juliet Snowden (both of whom helped to write Knowing, an appalling movie that was all over the place).

Over-all, The Possession is yet another wretched and stereotypical horror film. It adds nothing new to the genre, is neither funny nor frightening, and is remarkably dull. How many more ‘horror’ movies like this can Hollywood make before donors, directors and producers alike gain some dignity and pull the plug on this woeful genre?

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