Category Archives: Ghost Story

The Babadook

What Jesse said:

Finally an accurate depiction of parenthood! A well crafted unsettling tale about family. I give you… The Babadook. Essie Davis is mesmerizing as a single mom slowly getting to the end of her rope. And that kid…yikes! Go see it now.

Mike’s verdict:

I hadn’t heard of this one before Jesse suggested it and I think he intentionally tried to mislead me by saying it was about family; thankfully The Babadook is not really a story about family in the way Jesse insinuated, though on a certain level it definitely speaks to the relationship and influence of parents on children.

On the surface, this film is a standard haunted-house ghost story that reminded me a lot of The Shining. There’s no terrifying father figure in this, but Essie Davis‘s early on portrayal of the exhausted mother is eerily similar to Shelley Duvall‘s. Similarly, Noah Wiseman does a less effective but still admirable job of channeling Danny Lloyd as the creepy child. And although it’s less literal than in The Shining, I definitely felt a similar sense of isolation on the part of the characters. Beyond the characters themselves, the atmosphere of The Babadook also reminded me a lot of The Conjuring.

The story base – a scary monster that only a child sees – isn’t particularly novel, but there’s no doubt that this movie is disturbing.  Every setting in this film is designed to build anxiety; the house, the car, the hospital, a treehouse, and even the position of a neighbour’s window, all would have made me uncomfortable even if the activity happening around them didn’t. Added with just the right lighting and some cinematography tricks, the visuals had me uncomfortable from start to finish and I was aware of that discomfort the whole time.

Even better than the visual is the audio. Thinking about it now, I realize that I can’t recall a single moment when I was aware of the soundtrack. A frequent problem with ‘scary’ movies is over-use of those sounds that we all recognize as tropes. In the right measure they add to the atmosphere, but too much pulls you out of the moment. The Babadook feels natural at every point, even when the monster’s noise is at its worst.

That is the face of this film – an effective ghost story that left me needing to watch an anxiety-reducing comedy before moving on with my night (thank you, Archer).

But I think there is actually much more here.

The Babadook isn’t really about a haunting at all – it’s the story of a woman’s rapidly surfacing psychosis, which has been brought on by the overlapping events surrounding the death of her husband and birth of her son.  What at first seem to be the aggravating and sometimes frightening actions of a disturbed child, are in fact the reactions of a child attempting to live with the symptoms of his mother’s illness. There is no Babadook, only the disassociated personality of a woman who resents the child that is a daily reminder of the husband she lost.  The “disobedient child” is actually a completely normal child trying to live with a woman who is sometimes a loving mother and sometimes a terrifying monster. His fascination with building weapons isn’t a burgeoning sociopathy, it’s a very literal attempt to protect himself and the mother he loves from her own demons.

This film speaks very clearly to the need for parents to understand how directly their own fears, disappointments, anxieties and whole mental state affect their children.  It’s an ironic, thought-provoking, and clever take on the “haunted-house”, and a satisfyingly entertaining scare.

8/10

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Interstellar

What Jesse said:

… before he watched Interstellar:

Dude, we should go see Interstellar. Everyone and everyone’s monkey and everyone’s monkey’s dog is saying that it is fantastic. My brother and my cousin and my neighbour and my wife’s hairdresser’s pet saw it and they all say it’s awesome. They also say it’s the kind of movie we definitely need to see in IMAX. It is a space movie after all. Seriously, it’s going to be great. Plus it has Matthew McConaughey – he’s not as dreamy as Brad Pitt but he’s a close second.

… after he watched Interstellar:

Dude, please don’t review this movie. I don’t want people to think that I would recommend this – it will be devastating for my reputation as a movie-watcher and human-being. Please, please, please don’t tell people I made you and our respective significants pay $17 + taxes to see this in IMAX. Please. Let’s just forget this night ever happened.

Mike’s verdict:

I’ve decided to review Interstellar because even though the recommendation was both premature and formally rescinded, in the end I saw this movie because Jesse suggested we watch it: as far as I am concerned, that’s pretty much the definition of a recommendation. The fact that Jesse didn’t have his facts straight before he made the recommendation is irrelevant. Besides, there is already precedent for this type of situation: Black Dynamite.

There’s a lot wrong with Interstellar, but let’s start with the good because it’ll be quick. The atmosphere is great. This movie doesn’t have quite the same feeling of vastness that Gravity has – which is significant given that I watched Gravity on a comparatively tiny 8-foot screen rather than IMAX – but it still does a very good job of expressing the distance and emptiness of space. There is even one scene where I had a twinge of agoraphobia. I also really liked the stark difference in soundtracks between scenes on earth, in space vessels and in open space. You could really, really here the silence when it mattered.

And that’s it for good points.

My first complaint is that every major plot point is obvious – including the big twist. It’s not just obvious from the point of view of the spectator watching on the outside either – the characters themselves definitely should have seen it coming. The only parts of Interstellar’s plot that were not obvious were the ones that lacked any tie to actual science. Jonathan and Christopher Nolan took the liberty of using fantasy to fill in where science stops. In some sense this is fair, unfortunately I felt that the fantasy they invented was too silly. I really enjoy learning about the theoretical science behind space travel and this movie started off really well (at least to my non-specialist eyes). But it takes a bizarre tangent at the point where the science runs out.

Next, the characters. There is one interesting character in this movie; he gets all the best lines and is the only one you will feel for when there is danger. The entire rest of the cast is just there to ensure that the plot moves along – and I was never invested in any of them. In case you are wondering, the one good character isn’t portrayed by McConaughey, nor is it  really a central character in the strictest sense – in fact it isn’t a real person. I hope Bill Irwin is given the credit he deserves for bringing some entertainment to this movie. As far as the real characters are concerned, McConaughey was the same gritty-but-well-meaning character he is in every movie; Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine had suitably adequate performances but nobody is going to remember them for this movie. Matt Damon‘s role is less forgettable, but his performance isn’t really notable. I did like how Topher Grace and Casey Affleck were unceremoniously thrown in like extras though.

Overall, I think most of this movie was okay. I was basically entertained most of the way through until fantasy took over near the end. But it isn’t a good movie and it doesn’t deserve anywhere near the critical praise that it’s been getting. It’s also not worth the money to see it in a theatre – much less IMAX. I wish I’d waited and watched this at home.

4/10


House (“Hausu”)

What Jesse said:

Have you seen Hoozoo, Hauzoo, Hosso, uh, whatever it’s called – it means House?  It’s a crazy 70s Japanese flick. There isn’t even anything else I can say about it. It’s  crazy. There’s a piano scene. That’s all I can say.

Mike’s verdict:

Wow. There definitely is a piano scene. A ridiculously absurd piano scene. You see it coming like a train wreck in slow motion and it’s fantastic in its absurdity. The whole movie is.

I haven’t seen too many other Japanese movies from the 70s (or any at all), so I don’t know if House is typical or something completely different. It’s a lot like the classic American horror movies of the time; at least it has the same basic format – a group of friends in an unfamiliar environment are killed-off one at a time in increasingly gruesome ways. But where American horror takes itself seriously (even if the audience doesn’t), House almost feels like a spoof. It’s so over the top ridiculous that it’s hard to believe it’s not intentional. It feels like a caricature right from the beginning with a bizarre music montage that goes on so long you’ll start to wonder if you’ve been tricked into watching a musical. Plus, the seven girls all have silly nick-names that are clearly intended to reflect their character’s individual theme. Melody, for example, plays the piano. Even the dialog seems intentionally goofy at times, and not just in the way that asian movies always get goofy when they are translated. This feels like it would still be goofy even if I understood Japanese.

My favourite thing about the movie? Kung Fu. She’s sort of a hero – in an Adam-West-Batman meets Hit Girl kind of way.

The only thing that bothers me about House is the fact that it has subtitles. I don’t mind having to read once in a while, but this movie is very visual and I can’t properly appreciate it because I have to focus on the very bottom of the screen. That’s not really the movies fault but it’s still an issue.

Overall, I liked it and this one will probably stay in my collection so that I can share it with others.

9/10


The Conjuring

What Jesse said:

Dude – watch The Conjuring. It’s scary. Like, totally scary.  I was really scared – but in a good way. It’s not lame like most movies that are supposed to be scary. You’ll be scared too. Seriously.

Mike’s verdict:

(This review is a lightly edited version of an email I sent to Jesse immediately after watching The Conjuring. That email was itself the main impetus for the creation of the mike reviews movies recommended by jesse blog.)

All that Blue’s Clues and Thomas the Tank Engine has made Jesse soft. The Conjuring was pretty decent as far as ghost movies go, but it wasn’t noticeably scarier than some others I’ve seen. Sort of reminded me of The Exorcism of Emily Rose (which I liked) but with annoying and unlikely secondary characters.

Part of the problem might be that I dislike movies where the ‘authorities’ have some kind of emotionally scarred history that they need to contend with – ie the chick ghostbuster seeing something scary at a previous exorcism. Really, she’s a bloody ghostbuster and she’s only seen something scary once? They could have at least made it that she had actually been possessed or something. The emotional block from the past is a cliched and far too easy way of pretending that characters have depth. It’s like the writers finish the movie and then realize that they haven’t explained what some character’s issue is; ‘well if we can’t work it into the movie proper then lets just throw it into the back story’. Lame.

Don’t even get me started on the cop that doesn’t believe in ghosts but is still more than happy to spend days and nights in the house anyway. And since when does the church refuse to help people just because they weren’t baptized? Oh wait, on second thought that actually makes sense…

I really didn’t like the museum of supernatural objects either. First, it’s clearly stolen from Warehouse 13. And second, it’s stupid – if you are a proper ghostbuster with a healthy respect for the supernatural objects that you are busting, you don’t store them down the hall from your daughter’s bedroom. At least in Warehouse 13 they have the sense to keep the objects buried in the mountains of South Dakota.

The movie definitely had some good creepiness though. Aside from the first bit about the doll where it looked like it was going to be a comedy, there were lots of scenes with creepy atmosphere. And they didn’t rely on the jump scare too much either. The very last scene looking at the mirror could have been an easy scare but they didn’t go for the cheap jump.

I give it a 7/10 since most of the issues are industry tropes that ‘real’ reviewers expect to see. It could have had an 8 but they chose to use an unattractive woman as the mother. That’s just lazy.