The Babadook Review

thebabadookSeven year old Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is borderline feral with his unchecked imagination and violent outbursts.  His mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), struggles to balance her work life and her attempts to parent her wild son on her own.  Her stress is further compounded by her continued grieving over the loss of her husband seven years prior.  When Samuel picks out the bed time tale “Mister Babadook,” an eerie pop-up book that seemed to appear from thin air, Amelia’s pushed to the end of her rope as the book’s title character becomes a menacing presence in their already dysfunctional lives.

Debut director Jennifer Kent utilizes a monochrome color palette and haunting sound to set the tone before the audience even catches a glimpse of the Babadook, which only amps up the tension.  Familiar haunted house tropes populate the first half of the film; Samuel converses with an unseen visitor, Amelia’s bed time is interrupted by footsteps outside her bedroom door, and every time she tosses out the book it reappears.  The second half delves fully into surreal psychological horror reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, taking on a much darker tone.

The strength of the film lies largely with the performances behind Amelia and Samuel.  The relationship between the mother and son are in constant fluctuation, alternating between loving and utter frustration.  The lack of a paternal presence features prominently at the core of the story; Amelia struggles with parenthood after the loss of her husband while Samuel is becoming more aware that his family life is not like everyone else’s.  Some moments you feel Amelia’s defeat at Samuel’s unruliness, and other moments you feel for Samuel due to his mother’s distance.  The fragility of their state of living makes the Babadook all the more upsetting. Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia is both heartbreaking and horrific, while maintaining that maternal love for Samuel throughout.

While the tension remains consistently palpable, and there are many terrifying moments, it just fell short of the hype machine.  Though I suspect I will be in the minority on this one.  For me, this was not the scariest movie I’ve seen in a while.  The film is well acted, beautifully shot, and emotionally investing, but much of the tension fizzled out instead of the explosive ending the film deserved.  Most excellent genre films are social metaphors, I just happen to prefer them to be a little more subtle. Realizing what exactly the Babadook is took away all of the fear, though it did succeed in creating a much richer and more fulfilling story.

Overall, the Babadook is a great entry to the horror genre by Australia and newcomer Jennifer Kent, though not as scary as most reviews would lead you to believe.  Another shining example of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Babadook is set for release on DirectTV October 30, and wider release on November 28th.  Check out the website, and sign up on the email list to be notified on updates for the “Mister Babadook” pop-up book release.  You know, if you want to keep your children up all night.

Haunt Movie Review

ImageHaunt opens interestingly enough: a man emotional over the deaths of his children tries to contact them through an antique EVP radio and things go awry when he turns the dial and hears their voices.  Their voices aren’t the only that he hears. Something is comes through the open connection and the man dies as a result.  This gives way to a narrated montage explaining the tragedy that befell his family in that house, known as the “Morello curse.”  Only the mother(played by Jacki Weaver) survives and she moves out, leaving the large creepy house open for our protagonist, Evan, and his family to move in. 

As Evan and his older and younger sisters explore their new house, their images are juxtaposed with the corpses of the previous tenants as they move past the spots where they died.  First sign this movie was going to disappoint, as this came across more clumsy and forced than atmospheric.  Evan claims the large attic space as his bedroom, and the deliberate camera shots of the small door in the corner and moving floorboard really rub your face in the foreshadowing.  

Restless one night, Evan takes a walk in the woods and comes across a girl his age crying alone in the path.  Naturally, they hit it off immediately, and Sam spends the rest of the movie attached to Evan as she’s hiding from her abusive father.  She’s very familiar with Evan’s house, claiming to have spent a lot of time in the house before, and I admit I wondered if she was a ghost.  Her behavior was a little strange for a normal girl.  She somehow knows about the antique EVP radio left behind in the small attic room and talks Evan into using it to make contact with spirits.  Contact is made, much to Evan’s surprise, and he shuts the radio off.  Only the ghosts aren’t ready to cease communication and the haunting escalates.

Haunt is a competently made film, but it’s like so many haunted house flicks before it.  Some of the jump scares work, but so many fall flat because you’ve seen the exact same ones duplicated before.  When Evan peers through the partially opened door of his younger sister, curious who she is talking to, I bet you can guess what happens next.  The designs of the ghosts are well done, and not all scares fall flat.  Some of the visuals are effectively creepy.

The actors all do a fine job, and the dialogue is more intelligent than you’d expect for a horror film featuring teens as the leads.  Evan and Sam actually make logical choices.  Jacki Weaver packs a lot of punch into her smaller supporting role.  

As typical and generic as most of the film felt, I admit the ending was not what I expected.  The mystery is wrapped up rather abruptly, though, and I was left wishing there was a little more explanation.  Some plot threads felt under utilized and pointless, but overall the narrative was interesting enough.

An enjoyable haunted house flick with decent scares lead by a likable cast, just don’t expect anything new.

Fearshire Farms

If you’re in the Houston area and love haunted houses, I implore you to check out Fearshire Farms.  It’s a bit of a drive south of Houston, located in Angleton, TX, but for me it was worth it.  Maybe it is due to the location and still being a relatively young haunt, that Fearshire Farms lacked the overwhelming crowds that you find at more popular Houston haunts like Phobia or Screamworld.

There are three attractions at Fearshire Farms: Honkey’s Fun House, Dead End Corn Maze, and Fearsons Farm House.  There’s also a snack stand, a pavilion with picnic tables facing a large screen playing horror films, a bonfire to roast s’mores, and many actors (most with live snakes) interacting with guests.  So there’s plenty to do to keep you entertained in between attractions.

Another thing I absolutely loved about the place was the atmosphere.  The location gives it an isolated feel and the very dim lighting only contributed to the ambiance.  Once you walked past the pavilion you were in the dark as you moved from attraction to attraction.  Most of all, though, I loved the staff.  They were extremely personable, which you miss out on with the larger venues.  Everyone, aside from the actors who remained in character, were extremely helpful and friendly.  The Mad Hatter, who I suspect may be the mastermind behind Fearshire Farms, was often found moving from line to line inquiring if guests were having a good time.  The staff loves this place and it was contagious.

As for the attractions, each were well done but my favorite of the three by far was Fearsons Farm House.  This attraction is set in an actual farm house and each room was so unique with its own theme yet still cohesive to an overall theme.  The scares were varied; don’t expect to rely on the same scare tactic every time.  One of my favorite parts of this attraction was ending up in a creepy bedroom after pushing through a large closet full of hanging objects, and discover all doors are locked.  As you turn around to find your way out a creepy actor slithers out toward you.  The staff unlocks one of the doors to let you out right before the creature reaches you.  At one point I actually paused to marvel at a well done effect.  

This doesn’t diminish the fun of the other attractions, though, as both were well themed and a blast to walk through as well.  Each attraction managed to feel entirely unique and offer something that appeals to a wide range of phobias.  Does the thought of being chased by chainsaw wielding maniacs freak you out?  Are you claustrophobic?  How do you feel about clowns?  What about about a demented, dark farm in the middle of nowhere?

Then try out Fearshire Farms and let me know how you feel it compares to Houston’s other haunted attractions.

If you need a little more convincing, this place will be featured on the Travel Channel Oct 13th, on Halloween’s Craziest.