The Babadook – Netflix movie of the day


It’s been a long time since I regularly watched horror movies. Back in the nineties I would always catch the late night fright flicks on TV (Evil Dead, The Fog, The Shining, etc.), and would go and see the newer ones (Blair Witch, Ringu, etc) in the cinema, but with the advent of Saw, Hostel and the rapid descent of the genre into torture porn I lost interest. I enjoy my horror when it leaves more to the imagination, and less when it’s trying to outdo itself by showing ever more gruesomeness.

As a result, I haven’t seen too much recently, and what I have seen tends to fall squarely into the poking-fun-at-the-genre category, like the quite excellent (and decidedly unscary) Cabin in the Woods. I’m writing this so you know where I’m coming from in my review of The Babadook. If you’re looking for a Human Centipede type extravaganze in horrendousness, this is not for you.


So what is The Babadook then? The setup is classic horror. There is the large empty house, stifled with a sense of grief ever since father, Oskar, died in a car accident while taking his wife, Amelia, to the hospital to deliver their baby. There is the boy, Sam, now seven years old, who fears a monster skulking in the night and busily prepares lethal contraptions to smash it’s head in. And there is the sinister children’s book ‘Mr Babadook’ which in very cutesy sing-song rhyme tells you how you can never get rid of it once you let it in. Of course the book is indestructable, and no hiding or tearing it to pieces can get rid of it.


First time director Jennifer Kent expertly sets up this premise in the opening scenes and then slowly starts playing with the rules. Sam, at first comes across as the most irritating child you’ll ever meet, obsessed with his monster, prone to night terrors, not giving his exhausted mother a wink of sleep or moment of peace. But then Amelia, on the brink of a breakdown, starts to feel haunted herself, and becomes more dangerous than the Babadook itself.


The storyline keeps you guessing as to what this monster really is, and how it ties into the very real grief felt by the death of Oskar. Acting is extraordinary throughout and both Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as Sam show off an impressive range as they move between sanity and delusion.

The Babadook is that rare horror film that gets under your skin and refuses to leave. As the poster has it:


The Babadook – 2014,  Australia – 1h 33m – by Jennifer Kent

These movies are available on the US version of Netflix at the time the post was written. As the catalogue changes often, and is not the same in each country, it might not be available where/when you are.

Netflix Movie of the Day – Force Majeure

force majeure1
Last week we fired up the red button on our remote – yes, our TV actually has a dedicated Netflix button – and came across a recent Swedish movie by Ruben Östlund called Force Majeure (or Turist in the original language). It tells the story of the perfect modern family. Mother Ebba, father Tomas, two young children, boy girl, Harry and Vera. They ooze professional and personal success. Wealthy, good looking. Loving glances between the couple, children energetic and mostly well-behaved. We find them on a winter ski-break in the French alps, which it appears is not their first time, as they expertly navigate the slopes. The set-up is smooth and subtle. These are people who have it made, and seem perfectly contended in their lives. What would it take to break the equilibrium?

Force_Majeure2After a morning’s skiing, the family sits down at a restaurant terrace overlooking the valley. Controlled explosions boom through the valley and set off an avalanche. The restaurant goers turn to the spectacle, whip out their cell phones and start filming. So does our handsome family. The snow rolls down the mountain side, overwhelms the valley and rises over the terrace. Panic breaks out. Ebba reaches for the children. Tomas, phone in hand, turns and runs away. Within seconds the panic subsides, the avalanche stopped in time after all, but the damage is done.

At first they try to ignore what happened, in particular Tomas pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary took place. Ebba on the other hand can’t help but return to that moment where her husband ran off leaving her alone with the kids. It’s like a scab on their marriage that she can’t help but poke at. Over the following days, they meet up with friends, they fight, they argue, they try to come to terms with what each of them did.

Force Majeure4

The movie sketches this very simple situation, one that could happen to any of us, and then lets the pieces fall where they may. The cinematography by Fredrik Wenzel throws the human comedy into sharp relief against the purity of the mountains, drawing crisp tableaus of pristine snowscapes, and contrasting them with the impersonal, lonely hallways of the ski resort. You can’t help but wonder how you yourself would react in a similar situation. Would you run? Would you stay? Would you be able to live with what you or your partner’s instincts choose?


 Force Majeure – 2014, Sweden – 2h 0m – by Ruben Östlund

These movies are available on the US version of Netflix at the time the post was written. As the catalogue changes often, and is not the same in each country, it might not be available where/when you are.

Life Itself – Roger Ebert and the art of writing on movies

life itselfCNN seems to have gotten into the business of making movies. I’m not sure if news alone isn’t cutting it anymore in their battle with Fox, but recently in addition to the daily dose of Anthony Bourdain travel shows, they started putting out documentaries. Last year it was a takedown of SeaWorld in Blackfish and just this weekend they unveiled a movie on the life of Roger Ebert. Which is a great thing for me, as Roger Ebert is the critic I’ve read above anyone else. And I’m kinda excited they’re making movies about movie critics these days.

For those of you who don’t know Roger Ebert, he was the movie critic for the Chicago Sun Times for the past half a century. That’s a long time. Here’s a man whose first review was of 1961’s La Dolce Vita (whose iconic blond bombshell – Anita Ekberg – incidentally passed away this weekend) and his last was the 2013 Terence Malick picture To the Wonder. He was the first movie critic to receive a Pulitzer prize and he became a well-known TV personality in the eighties and nineties when he hosted a weekly show with fellow critic Gene Siskel. Their trademark ‘two-thumbs-up’ for a time was the only thing that mattered to studios and could make or break you.

Of course I didn’t know any of this when I first started reading his reviews. I discovered him, as any reasonable modern person would do, through the internet. I think it was in the early 2000s – or aughts if you prefer – and the International Movie Database was my movie bible. This was before the horrific redesign, which got rid of the left-hand sidebar (because  who doesn’t like scrolling to the end of a page to find what you need), and there was still a link close to the top with a list of external reviews. More often than not, Ebert’s would be first.

So I read his reviews on any movie I was looking up. And as I got a liking for his style, I began to go straight to his corner on the Sun Times website every Friday morning to read up on the 3-5 new movies that had come out that week often months before they would hit Europe. And once I went there every week it was a short click to his blog on which he would discuss anything under the sun in an expansive free-philosophizing style.

So what was so great about his writing? Well, let me give a couple of my personal favorites:

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

 I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than “The Brown Bunny”

and of course his classic destruction of the by now utterly unknown North:

I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

A still from The Fall

But entertaining as these were, it’s not why I liked him. Many reviewers can do great put-downs but only the rare view can inspire you to see or re-see a movie and that’s where he really shines. Ebert really loved movies and it showed in his writing on such relative unknowns as the Up Series or wondrously visual extravaganzas like The Fall.

Here he is on the latter:

Tarsem’s “The Fall” is a mad folly, an extravagant visual orgy, a free-fall from reality into uncharted realms. Surely it is one of the wildest indulgences a director has ever granted himself. Tarsem, for two decades a leading director of music videos and TV commercials, spent millions of his own money to finance “The Fall,” filmed it for four years in 28 countries and has made a movie that you might want to see for no other reason than because it exists. There will never be another like it.

Because of Ebert I have seen many movies I otherwise would not have and even though I often didn’t agree with his assessment (he always was a better writer than a critic) he judged a movie by what it was trying to do and not by what some critic thought it ought to do.

Life Itself tells the story of how he became a critic, how he was once an alcholic, waged endless petty wars with his fellow critics and in the final years of his life struggled through debilitating disease. Ironically it’s in the these latter years that I read most of his work and the setbacks he suffered never dulled the power of his writing. Life Itself is a fascinating portrait of a man who loved film, and a great introduction to one of the best writers on the subject.

life itself poster_