Editor's Note: We're featuring individually chosen FYC's for various longshots in the Oscar race. We'll never repeat a film or a category so we hope you enjoy the variety of picks. And if you're lucky enough to be an AMPAS, HFPA, or Critics Group voter, take note! Here's Michael on The Babadook.
Years of horror films have trained audiences how to guard against all the tricks of the genre, but Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook gets around those defenses and needles us in ways for which we aren't prepared. Kent understands that all great horror touches on some form of primal terror. Something deeper than the surface shocks. The Shining had our fear of isolation. Jaws had our helplessness in the face of nature's power. The Babadook taps into our dread of our own offspring. The fear that they might destroy our life and the fear that we may hate them. Kent’s film burrows so far under the skin you can practically hear it scrape against bone.
The Babadook's screenplay does so many things so effortlessly it’s easy to miss the scope of her achievement. Part of the reason the scares are so effective is that the film has been so convincingly grounded in reality before the horror elements creep in. If the haunting had never materialized the story could continue quite well as an affecting portrait of a struggling single mom. Kent also lands a killer ending, one that manages to leave the audience both satisfied and thoroughly unsettled. Count on your fingers how many other modern horror films pull off that trick and you will have enough digits left over to cover your eyes when The Babadook gets too terrifying.
The Babadook has been widely heralded as one of the best horror films of the new century, if not the best, yet it is all but certain to be ignored by the Academy. It deserves to join the slim ranks of Best Picture nominated horror titles alongside The Exorcist, Jaws and Silence of the Lambs, but since that is not going to happen, the least they can do is recognize Kent’s achievement in conceiving of Mr. Babadook in the first place. And after all, wouldn’t it be fitting if the story of a monster who lurks on the printed page found its recognition in the writing category?