Monday, January 19, 2015

Horror Down Under

The Babadook, 2014, Jennifer Kent -- download
Housebound, 2014, Gerard Johnstone -- download

And yes, New Zealand is considered part of the Down Under colloquialism.

The Babadook is getting a lot of acclaim out there in the wide world, not only as a horror movie directed by a woman but also being a fresh, bright spot in the genre of horror & suspense. Amelia is a single mom to the little terror Samuel. They have a good relationship but you can see immediately, he is a bit of a handful, the nagging, always talking, rather lonely weird kid who leaves his mother's nerves always a bit on edge. And thus the book Mr. Babadook is introduced into their lives, one of those stylish artsy children's scary books about a creature in the closet, knock knock knocking to be let in. Its fucking terrifying!

But to be honest, to me it was just an averagely enjoyable scary movie. Sure, the depictions of the monster are just downright, creepy, icky and actually chilling. The nails on chalkboard voice, the loud hammering is eerie. But the remainder, the tale of a woman beset by insomnia and the stress of single motherhood is rather ho-hum. Sorry, maybe not so politically correct of me to not be impressed, but I found myself more annoyed by the kid then impressed by the story telling.

This struck me as a movie to be credited as a good horror movie by people who believe horror sucks. All the scares are familiar, dancing between reality of her mental breakdown and the unreality that there is really a monster in the house, a very real supernatural danger. Questioning that is nothing new in horror, but I admit, it was very very artfully done in this. In many ways, I cannot credit this as being a extremely innovative horror movie, but it was a very well done one. It was one that ends with well that was OK.

Meanwhile the ending of Housebound had me exclaiming, "That was pretty darn good !"  I may have been a bit more expletive. But truly, it was a darn good horror come comedy. Getting comedy in your horror is a very down under thing. Starting with my introduction with the gleefully gore filled Peter Jackson movies (think Dead Alive or The Frighteners), it was very apparent that heavy dose of uncomfortable guffaw is popular in their horror cinema.

Housebound is about a young woman, Kylie, confined to stay with her mom, after being caught in a hilariously botched ATM robbery. You may think that she doesn't want to stay with her embarrassing mom just because of the obvious reasons, but really its because their house is ... haunted !  Well, sort of. Apparently there was a murder in the house and the spirit is still creaking, knocking and grabbing, since our main character was a kid.

Things dance along forcing Kylie to investigate the murder, first stopping to suspect the creepy guy next door. He is classic bad guy, normally filling in the job of scaring college kids on their way up to the cabin, but spending the rest of the time in his hoard(er) filled house. But no! It was his even creepier, small animal killing adopted son! But no!  You get the point. Every time we think we know where the movie is (typically) going, we are pushed in another direction. It was so much fun building scenarios and immediately dumping them as more clues and misdirections were tossed in our laps.

This is how I like my innovative horror. You can do the typical, the familiar but you have to do something new with them. And if not particularly new, at least fresh enough to have me guessing and laughing or jumping along with the characters. The acting may have been middle of the road, but the story was just fun.

This was the pick between the two, though hearing the cackle of the Babadook is still enough to give me chills.