Once You Let EVIL In, EVIL Will Never Let Go. “The Babadook” reviewed! (Second Sight Films / Blu-ray Screener)



Stage set six years after a car accident involving the death of her husband, single mother Amelia and her difficult six-year-old son, Samuel, struggle to find a harmonious balance in their mother-son relationship.  Samuel’s outbursts and aggressive behaviors deflate the boy’s sometimes sweet nature that has oppressed Amelia into her wits end, alienating her from connecting with other people, even her own sister.  For days Amelia can’t sleep as the stress mounds and Samuel’s erratic temperament continues to worsen, especially when Samuel discovers a mysterious book from the shelf entitled Mister Babadook.  A book he can’t shake from his mind.  The frightening book, filled with graphic imagery and popups, tells of an ominous, dark figure eager to be let into their lives and when the Babadook presence lurks from the pages to reality, hiding in the darkest corners of their home and leeching on the strained anxiety and fear, Amelia and Samuel must rely on each other to wade out the Babadook’s horrible wretchedness only to realize that the way to stop from succumbing to the Babadook’s wrath is to face it head on. 

I can not believe that nearly 7 years has gone by and I have not once sat with a viewing of Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook.”  Well, luckily for me, genre UK curator and distributor Second Sight Films is releasing the golden egg of limited edition 4K UHD/Bluray sets and was able to snag a screener for review!  The Australian film is an emotionally complex and enormously identifiable thriller that demonizes the post-death states of those dealing with loss and struggling to live on tasked with what’s typically a two person responsibility of mutual support and care.  Kent, who wrote and directed the film, expands upon her original 2005 short entitled “Monster,” by keeping the wrenching core that close in tighter and tighter on the mother and son while upping the visual and audio stylistic elements to make an immersive sympathetic undergo and not just an empathetic one.  “The Babadook” is a production of a conglomerate of companies, including Screen Australia, Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions, The South Australian Film Corporation, and Entertainment One and is produced by “Cargo’s” Kristina Ceyton and Jeff Harrison along with “The 13th House’s” Kristian Moliere.

Tackling these performances of a suppressed grief-stricken mother on the edge of snapping and a young boy growing up without a father and innocently oblivious to his own autistic like behavioral issues come with layers upon layers of character depth and, in my firm opinion, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman crush the roles with a heartbreaking dynamic.   “The Matrix Reloaded” and “Revolutions” star Davis has a tangible wearied performance of a single parent with no one to turn to for help as your unconditional love for her troubled son runs on fumes, dangerously low without an outlet for support, encouragement, or relief.  Samuel has more familiarity in the genre as a relatively new trope, an autistic child that becomes intertwined with a wicked presence that has popped up more recent films, such as Jacob Chase’s “Come Play” and Greg McLean’s “The Darkness,”  as researches learn more about autism and society has been able to authenticate the condition over the years.  The debut feature performance from young Noah Wiseman can get under-your-skin being a restless busy body, a screeching backseat thrasher, and a poke and prod child in constant need of attention, but Noah is able to switch right into a sweet natured young boy with lots of wonderment and love for his mother.  Noah’s inventive, creative, and has a knack for self-preservation when dealing with a looming evil hungry for his fearful submission but because Noah is different from other children, he’s society labeled “disadvantage” is actually advantage, a tool for survival, that keeps him fixated on what’s important.  Focally attuned to just Amelia and Samuel in the story, the film barely registers the supporting cast that rounds out with Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, and Tim Purcell as the obscured Babadook.

Right from the opening scene, director Jennifer Kent instills a visually stylish premise geared to layer Amelia’s troubled mindset with an etherealized environment nightmare of her husband’s tragic death followed with the reality-grounding energy drain of raising single-handedly a difficult child and the rest of Amelia’s social bubble imploding without a sense of compassion.  From Samuel’s school to her own sister, Amelia is bombarded with delineation of Samuel’s behavior, riddling her psyche with shot after shot of disparaging remarks compounded upon a lingering pain that goes all the way back to her husband’s death nearly seven years ago and to which she subconsciously assigns Samuel blame.  Culminating to a head on Samuel’s birthday, the exact same date of her husband’s death, is a flood of weary and breakdown overtaking Amelia’s last bit of hope for her child and for herself.  This manifests an internalized darkness protruding out into the exterior in the form of Mister Babadook, the embodiment of grief pent up and let loose, feeding off Amelia’s exhaustion and malevolently possessing her being to want to do the worst possible thing overly stressed and repressed parents can do – take out their pain on their children.  Kent masterfully crafts symbolizing grief as an atypical presence of our normal selves.  The sheer amount of dimly lit negative space for the Babadook lying in waiting goes not to waste as when you think something is there, perhaps the Babadook, nothing actually materializes from the ominous shadows, but, in the realm of the story’s reality, that sensation of feeling a presence in the room with you is beyond a tauten tangibility and Kent, playing with that construct, adds stomach knotting audible cues, a guttural discordance, that narrow the eyes, pull the covers over the head, and have you wait with bated breath.

Let the “The Babadook” in with Second Sight Films’ 3-disc limited edition dual formatted, region free 4K UHD and region B Blu-ray, release arriving in the UK on June 21st.  The 4K presentation, an upscaled 2160p, is mastered by the original post production facility and presented in a 10-bit HDR10.  Both 4K and Blu-ray have an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen.  Audio options include the an English language DTS-HD master audio 5.1 and an English LPCM 2.0, complete with perplexing creature roaring soundbites from the original Resident Evil game on PlayStation.  Since only a screener disc was provided for this review, I am unable to comment on the exact quality of the release’s audio and video outputs; however, the rigid slipcase, with artwork from Peter Diamond, sheaths an abundance of special features, including a new audio commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas and Josh Nelson, “This is My House!” – an interview with lead actress Essie Davis working with the cast and crew as well as her impressions of the story, “The Sister:  Interview with Hayley McElhinney” who talks about her character’s uncompassionate sibling role, and interviews with producers Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere, editor Simon Njoo, production designer Alex Homes, composer Jud Kurzel, and book illustrator of Mister Babadook Alexander Juhasz.  The release also comes with Jennifer Kent’s inspirational short film, “Monster,” the making-off “”They Call Him Mister Babadook,” featurette about production design and set location in “There’s No Place Like Home:  Creating the House,” special effects talk about the sole stabbing scene, segment on stunt work, “Illustrating Evil: Creating the Book” that was illustrated by Alexander Juhasz, and a 150-page hardback book with brand new essays, an achieved interview with the director, concept illustrations, and behind the scenes photos  and collectors’ art cards that were not included with the screener.   Broodingly topical and harrowingly acted with perfection, “The Babadook” is the epithet for silent deadly threats, squirrelled and suppressed away by innate survival instincts only to be a subsonic explosion when the unstable psyche’s flashing point is sparked. 

A Diary Full of EVIL Secrets. “The Darkness” reviewed! (Reel2Reel / Digital Screener)

David inherits his ailing grandmother’s countryside cottage and holidays with his novelist girlfriend, Lisa, who seeks a little refuge to inspire her next big bestseller.  As soon as they arrive and Lisa discovers an old storage chest in the attic, Lisa’s is pulled by a call of a supernatural entity that lures her outside to an unmarked grave, an ominous cave suspected with evil fairies, and a diary that tells the horrifying accounts of a murdered woman.  Their time at the cottage take a toll on Lisa who’s strange behavior places concern on David.  An ostracized priest forewarns possession, death, and the stakes if Lisa remains in the area that’s haunted with witches, ghosts, changelings, and betrayers. 

Originally titled “Dorcha,” an Irish term for dark, and then rebranded as “The Darkness” for the remainder of the English speaking residents of the world, the 2021 released multifaced specter and fairy Irish folklore spectacle is the directorial debut of Tharun Mohan, a current producer for the 2021 United Kingdom vampire versus human boiling point coexistence television series, “Age of the Living Dead,” co-starring our good genre loving friend and actor, Bill Oberst Jr.  While Bill Oberst Jr. is not a part of “The Darkness” (my apologies if I gave a sense of false hope), Mohan, from off the pages of his screenplay, aspires to illuminate Irish mythology as an alluring gothic horror mixture of mystery with fear sans the more popular little green men defending pots of gold.  The self-produced film under the Tharun Productions is the banner’s first feature with Aoun Khan, Neenu Mathai, Anoop Pillai, and Monique R. White serving as executive producers.

While we don’t get Bill Oberst Jr. (still hurts), we do get someone just as good with “The House of Bly Manor’s” Amelia Eve!  The UK actress headlines “The Darkness” in the role of Lisa, the struggling novelist looking for a slice of inspiration but instead receives the whole pie of possession.  Eve lives it up as an entity puppeteering her youthful outer shell in the filth and muck, stuffing her face with all the food in the cottage, and, at times, imitating an urbanity style of death.  Meanwhile, her boyfriend David (Cyril Blake) would have probably unintentionally babe’d her to death if she wasn’t already being haunted by a vindictive Victorian spirit.  “The Darkness” is Blake’s introductory role into feature films and the 36 year old, South Yorkshire actor can’t quite capture sincerity when it comes to his girlfriend’s unusual behavior.  David also just wanders to-and-fro around town in an aloof manner for more than just one reason until things become dire with Lisa and  then is that only when he’s starts to get really involved and attempt to fix whatever’s afflicting  Lisa, even if he has to entertain an informed, but shunned, eccentric priest (John Sudgen) with tea and biscuits in order to get just what the hell is going on.  A number of side characters pop up with an inclining of importance, such as the nosy waitress (Marian Elizabeth), a powerful witch (Gillian Kirkpatrick), and a determined historian (Mary Drake), but fall short of any real significance by fluttering in with just enough motivational tidbits and then flutter out of the scene and let the principle characters work out the rest.  “The Darkness” is a dual timeline narrative with the current story focusing on Lisa’s bubbling black enchantment slowly taking over her body with the backbone base layer account of events providing a tell-all mystery driving Lisa mad with a menacing spirit.  Occurring around a few decades ago before Lisa and David arrive, Niav O’Connor (Katherine Harthshorne) mysteriously disappears from her husband Bryan (Adam Bond), but much of this is revealed through the Lisa’s obsessive reading of Niav’s diary which begs the question, how did Niav write her demise in the diary pages if she was already dead?

And that last sentiment ultimately describes Mohan’s film, as an unfocused and trite expression of amateur storytelling.  There’s difficulty in trying to nail down, or taking a stab at anything as the saying goes, in the “The Darkness’” many moving parts and many fiends in the off shoots Mohan tries to tie in from all various directions.  Even in the film’s final scenes, Mohan had to pen in one more twist that corrodes even further the integrity of a much desired narrative about Irish mythologies and the malevolencies that spur them. Myths are the heart of “The Darkness,” more specifically with the changelings who are fairies that replace real people, and Niav and Bryan O’Connor’s ghastly tale echoes the non-fictional account of Bridget Cleary, an Irish wife murdered by her husband under the suspicion that his wife was a changeling. Connections made between the past and present are roughly tied together at best with only Niav’s unearthed and charmed diary serving as a conduit to possess Lisa’s curious id. The pursuit of revenge for her untimely demise falls upon… well, that part of the story is undoubtedly vague as Niav seems to be resurrecting from the grave, so to speak, to reveal dubious secrets held by relatives from the lineage of her husband Bryan and cling her spiteful lifeforce to that bloodline and haunt O’Connor descendants like a severe post traumatic stress disorder; yet the vapid ending doesn’t justify the means, falling short the buildup of the hallmarks of folklore horror in witches, changelings, fairies, dark arts priests, and ghosts with anything but spectacular.

No cheap thrills, no gore, no nudity. “The Darkness” relies heavily on the suspense of the gothic tale itself to drawn in and spook audiences as the Mohan film creeps onto digital streaming services and video on demand this month, May 3rd, from the fresh-faced independent UK distribution label, Reel2Reel. The production value on “The Darkness” catches the passing aesthetically expensive eye while still being an economically financed and that’s a big credit to director of photography, Ariel Artur, getting the artistic shots that displays time and patience in getting the minor key angles right to at least extract a gripping moment of apprehension, resembling 60’s and 70’s European horror to likes of Hammer Horror or Amicus in appearance alone. As far as bonus scenes during or after the credits, there are none. As a starting line feature, “The Darkness” is not terrible. Let’s be clear on this as Tharun Mohan understand the fundamentals of filmmaking with sound positioning of characters in scenes, a superb, expensive look on a value size budget, and the Amalie Eve’s crazed performance is a thrill in itself, but envisioning the structure still remains behind the blinders, leaving “the Darkness” just an aimless shot in the dark.