New life in hor­ror genre

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Review - David Strat­ton

NOT so long ago, the South Aus­tralian film 52 Tues­days re­ceived a limited re­lease, and now comes an­other pro­duc­tion from that state: Both are set in dingy sub­ur­ban houses in Ade­laide, both are di­rected by women, and both deal with events most would con­sider strange. Whereas 52 Tues­days was about a mother who un­der­goes a sex change, The Babadook is a hor­ror film about a mother who finds her­self haunted by a par­tic­u­larly threat­en­ing ghost.

Writ­ten and di­rected by Jennifer Kent, the film in­tro­duces us to Amelia (Essie Davis) and her six-year-old son, Sa­muel (Noah Wise­man). Amelia has never quite re­cov­ered from the death of her hus­band, Oskar (played in brief flash­backs by Ben Win­spear), who was killed in a crash that oc­curred while he was driv­ing her to the hospi­tal to give birth.

On the sur­face she seems to have ad­justed rea­son­ably well; she works in a home for the el­derly, she’s kind and thought­ful to­wards her neigh­bour, she seems fairly calm. Yet, as beau­ti­fully and res­o­nantly played by Davis, it’s clear that some­thing’s wrong with a stil­lat­trac­tive widow whose hori­zons are so limited.

Her sis­ter (Hay­ley McEl­hin­ney) is clearly con­cerned but is also wary of her. A great deal of this wari­ness and con­cern is due to Sam, who is prone to night­mares. The boy is hy­per­ac­tive, volatile and un­pre­dictable, and has an un­healthy in­ter­est in weapons and games in­volv­ing vi­o­lence — young Wise­man’s per­for­mance is sen­sa­tion­ally good. No won­der the sis­ter is ner­vous: this kid is po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous.

The tense sit­u­a­tion is ex­ac­er­bated when, one night, Sam pro­duces a book for his mother to read to him: Mis­ter Babadook has a bright red cover and vividly, al­most bru­tally, drawn il­lus­tra­tions of a very sin­is­ter char­ac­ter. Once the Babadook has en­tered the house, he’s not eas­ily ejected, as Amelia soon dis­cov­ers, and all kinds of evil are at­trib­uted to this crudely drawn The Babadook (M) Limited re­lease Sun­shine on Leith (PG) Limited re­lease My Sweet Pep­per Land (M) Limited re­lease

Sun­shine on Leith char­ac­ter. When there’s a piece of Amelia’s soup: “The Babadook did it!”

The haunted-house movie in all its myr­iad vari­a­tions is such a fa­mil­iar genre that it’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve any­thing new could be de­rived from the con­cept. Kent suc­ceeds tri­umphantly in breath­ing new life into fa­mil­iar ma­te­rial, so much so that it’s no sur­prise that the film was well re­ceived at Sun­dance ear­lier this year.

Made on what ap­pears to be a mod­est budget, The Babadook proves once again that an orig­i­nal and per­sonal vi­sion is the prin­ci­pal req­ui­site for an in­ter­est­ing film, but in this case the di­rec­tor’s work with two won­der­ful ac­tors is cru­cial to the film’s suc­cess.

On the strength of this

glass

in

edge-of-the-seat ex­pe­ri­ence, Kent could be­come an­other of our film­mak­ers snapped up by Hol­ly­wood, but if she is, I doubt she’ll make as in­ter­est­ing a film as this one. A MU­SI­CAL set in Scot­land about two for­mer soldiers back home af­ter serv­ing in Afghanistan seems an un­likely prospect, but that’s a nut­shell de­scrip­tion of the be­guil­ing

which is struc­tured around songs by Scot­tish duo the Pro­claimers, whose hit Miles forms the film’s cli­max.

Dex­ter Fletcher’s film be­gins in the war zone as Davy (Ge­orge MacKay) and Ally (Kevin Guthrie) nar­rowly es­cape the fate that be­falls their friend. Back in Ed­in­burgh, Ally re­sumes his re­la­tion­ship with Liz (Freya Ma­vor), Davy’s sis­ter, and she in­tro­duces Davy to Yvonne (An­to­nia Thomas), a fel­low nurse who has come north from Lon­don. The other key char­ac­ters are Davy and Liz’s par­ents (Peter Mul­lan and Jane Hor­rocks), who are about to cel­e­brate their 25th wed­ding an­niver­sary when some­one from the past turns up with a rev­e­la­tion.

Mu­si­cals aren’t as pop­u­lar as they once were, un­less they’re big pro­duc­tions based on pop­u­lar stage suc­cesses, and I can imag­ine that this film will not be to ev­ery­one’s taste. The last time a film was made that was at all sim­i­lar to this ( Across the Uni­verse, which drama­tised The Bea­tles’ song collection), the pub­lic largely stayed away. They missed a good film, and Sun­shine on Leith is pretty good too.

There are sen­ti­men­tal el­e­ments, and not all the songs are top-drawer, but de­spite that the un­likely idea of hav­ing char­ac­ters burst into song as they walk down the street or drink in a pub worked for me. Apart from the ex­u­ber­ant cli­max, the best scene is one in which Peter Mul­lan, known for the rather down­beat roles in which he’s usu­ally cast, sings the heart­felt Jean to his wife at their an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion.

Leith is a sub­urb of Ed­in­burgh, but the hand­somely pho­tographed film largely un­folds on

Kevin Guthrie and Ge­orge MacKay in

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