Horror movies have been getting a lot of hype lately and I was lucky enough to see two in the last few days that have received a ton of it. Thankfully, despite the hype, I've managed to stay away from any huge spoilers. I had thought the ending of The Babadook was ruined for me by a tweet, but in an all to common circumstance, I lucked out when the person posting completely misunderstood the film. Something I'm finding most people do these days with all films, but especially in horror.
Both films deal with loneliness in very different ways. One takes the traditional route (AGWHAAN) and goes for the popular genre driven take on it and the other goes in a completely different direction and decides to look at depression and mental illness, one could even say PTSD. Both films use light and dark setting to convey a real sense of reality and use the proven method of something lurking in the shadows to haunt, more so than violence and gore. The problem is, neither works on that level. That isn't to say one isn't a good movie, but it needs to be digested and becomes more effective after it's done, where as the other one loses it's way and in my case the viewer's attention.
The Babadook is gut-wrenching by the time you are done and it's every parents worst fear, becoming the monster you hope to protect your child from. It uses a children's book to depict the mental breakdown of the mother and we're never quite sure where the film is going, until the final scene. What's most important to the success of the story as a whole is to realize why the things that might frustrate us at the beginning are happening. Without going into any details that might spoil the experience, if you find yourself annoyed by one of the characters, this is entirely the point and when you realize why you start to feel anxiety when they are on screen, you realize how well done the film is. I won't lie, this film didn't resonate with me until two days after watching and now I realize, it's one I must revisit in a few month or maybe years. It may in fact turn out to be hurt so much by the hype, that I'm missing the reality, which is it is in fact one of the finest horror films ever created.
This leads me to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which for some inexplicable reason is being compared to the Babadook. The film is not in any way similar other than it is dark. It is filmed in Jarmusch-esque black and white and even has the restrained dialogue of his films. The problem is, it is never sure what it wants to be and it's a problem that leaves the viewer feeling as if the message is still stuck in the writer/director's head. It is supposed to be an Iranian Vampire tale, but it feels like the movie is taking place in East LA in a barrio run by Ukranian mobsters. As ludicrous as that sounds, it's nothing compared to how ridiculous it plays out. The film fails in that it never allows to understand why anyone is where they are and why we should care. It uses cliches such as vampires living off the weak and somewhat sympathizing with the sad and lonely, but it never makes us care about them. Each character seems to have material things they love, but when faced with true attachment, we're left grasping. The final scene of the film wraps it up nicely and by nicely, I mean, we don't really know why they must be where they are or how, but we do know we don't care. The only thing that stands out is the lovely star, Sheila Vand, who is limited by no real lines and the director's odd take on what her desires are.
The real problem for both of these films is that we want to care about the lead characters and we don't. While the Babadook is completely different in it's approach, because we're asked to empathize, not care, it still failed to have me embrace Essie Davis' character until the final moments. Had I realized three quarters of the way through, then I would have felt something, but then again, it would have completely taken away from the ending. In the other film, I never care. Not even my primal self, when she is at her weakest and most vulnerable (or was this just nudity for the sake of nudity?), was I even a slight bit interested in her how, what, where and whys. Even more distracting is the male lead, who we're never asked to question how he got to where he got without anyone noticing, but a little boy. If that last sentence has you scratching your head, let it, because it wraps up the irrational view the movie takes. And people, if you hear any comparisons to Only Lovers Left Alive, please slap that person for me.
If you're looking for entertainment, see the New Zealand horror-comedy Housebound. If you want a thought provoking, sad horror film, see The Babadook and if you want to impress your man-scaped, Radiohead loving, cafe crowd, claim you loved the cinematography and depth in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. I'll be over here waiting for Pascal Laugier to come out of the shadows and make another damn movie.