Horror films are at a new height of popularity and favoritism today. It is commonplace for large groups of friends to enjoy a frightful night at the movie house, with horror films coming out throughout all seasons of the year for audiences’ enjoyment; ever since Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (directed by F.W. Murnau) established the fandom in horror filmmaking in 1922, serious attention and money has been contributed toward the popularization of the horror genre.
Murnau established a strong tradition of masterful and efficient filmmaking to enhance a truly horrific and timeless experience, making the genre an experience; this influence traveled through new ages of directors that held similar values; Hitchcock, Carpenter, etc.
One of the newest directors to inherit such an intelligent and effective mindset is the Australian first-time director, Jennifer Kent. Her debut film, The Babadook, has struck a very peculiar note among the masses; it conveys an enormously strong and intelligently presented theme within her coveted monster-film setup. Her debut has become an instant-classic and a true gem in today’s horror world for reasons that I will discuss later; but what we must first observe is why it’s so special.
It’s intelligence, depth, and beauty are astronomical accomplishments, mostly because of its surroundings in today’s horror standards.
Horror films have taken hard turns throughout the decades since its bright inception, but we as a society could conclude that our current era is a new low. Studios rarely embrace new or risky material; clichés and remakes envelope the genre.
Why? Because audiences will buy for these films.
Remakes and clichéd plots/layouts seem to strike a note of familiarity or nostalgia, bringing in curious groups who have either heard of the archetype, or whatever classic the new film is basing itself from. Audiences today eat these films up; for example, Poltergeist, a 2015 remake of the 1982 classic, grossed over $47 million in the U.S. Another example is the 2007 remake of Halloween, the 1978 classic; the film grossed for over $58 million in the U.S. (over $30 million in its opening weekend).
Even films following the cash-cow that is “found-footage” filmmaking do extremely well, with their usually stale characters, poor acting/writing, and lazy direction (also, their appeal to studios is that they’re extremely cheap to make); The Gallows, a 2015 horror film (that cost around $100,000 to make) grossed at around $22 million in the U.S.
But Jennifer Kent did not contribute to any lazy or cheap trends in horror.
Kent’s masterful and terrifying direction do wonders for scenes with immense tension, eery sound effects, mind-numbing visuals, and impeccable cinematography; but what truly separates the film from any of its counterparts is its intelligence.
The film portrays the dark monster as a representation of grief (or depression, if you will) and contains many scenes with brilliant subtle homages. Our main character, Amelia Vanek, deals with the loss of her husband before her son’s birth; Mr. Babadook is a harsh representation of the incapsulating fear and heavy grief that has and will effect everyone at some point, as well as the recovery that follows.
The podcast below, “Horror Movie Podcast,” explains some of the technical aspects and depth-analysis that exists within the film very well (start at the 18:45 mark).
It is this intelligence and prowess that sets The Babadook apart; it is what horror was, and should be, even though it made less than $1 million.
The Babadook is horror’s saving grace.