In an interesting take on the psychological horror genre, Jennifer Kent's monster under the bed story certainly offers a lot of food for thought in terms of looking at grief and loss. Though this is billed as a creature feature right down to the black and white poster art mimicking the titular story book at the centre of its plot, it has to be said that those elements are the least interesting ones. While it's true that there are stand out sequences showing the book itself with all its hand made artwork and disturbing pop-up sections, approaching this as a horror film in the usual sense is probably ill advised. There is a lot more going on here and while the idea this being scary is meant to be a focus, it conflicts with the themes at its core that offer more depth. How much of this all works in the way things play out is up for consideration.
As straightforward horror, I have to say right off that this isn't scary in the traditional sense. The monster is built up a lot before making a real appearance, but never meets that expectation of being something terrible underneath the "funny disguise" as described in the story book the first time it gets shown. The payoff is all too human looking and never looks like those great illustrations, even if that is the intent. However some moments are indeed harrowing from a drama point of view, as this is really a story of a struggling single mother and her increasingly uncontrollable son. Her battle with things like his behavioral problems, her work with residents in a care home and her sister's less than helpful friends all come together in presenting a unnerving look at mental health and the cost of burying a past that needs confronting. But the Babadook itself as a metaphor and how it plays into these ideas seems to be presented far too early on which works against the pacing of any slow burning tension. It also feels lacking in terms of how this links into the visuals of a genuine monster - and how much of this is psychological feels undermined with those suggestions of the supernatural.
How invested you get into this story is dependent on this portrayal of the relationship of the two main characters. Luckily the protagonist Amelia is done incredibly well and the performance combines grief, loneliness and resentment into an engaging character who slowly unravels. Her son is also impressive at times although it is less consistent. Ultimately the real horror here is a result of how this domestic nightmare comes together. The sense of helplessness is very tangible at times and this is helped by some neat colour choices in the set design which mimics a black and white film in places. If only a little more work had been done in terms of creature design and avoiding stock sound effects which are a big distraction. Like the narrative itself things are a little patchy and I feel that the conclusion seems too simplistic and mildly anticlimactic after so much happens. Jumping from visual horror to mental break downs there is a lot to take in, and while it's uneven it does at least offer something for examination rather than just a series of jump scares.
THE EQUALIZER (2014)