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Top Ten Films of 2014

This is not a list of the best new movies I saw in 2014. If that were the case, Jean-Luc Godard’s astonishing Goodbye to Language, which I traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to see in 3D in November, would have unquestionably been number one. (Given that it is scheduled to open at the Siskel Center in January, Goodbye to Language will almost certainly be topping my list of the best films of 2015.) Instead, here are my 10 favorite new films to first play Chicago over the past calendar year, followed by a list of 40 runners up.

10. Jealousy (Garrel, France) – Siskel Center. Rating: 9.0

Jealousy

The latest realist drama from post-New Wave French director Philippe Garrel, again starring his talented son Louis, possesses the stark beauty and simplicity of a masterful line drawing. Although the story is set in the present day, the premise is that Louis plays “Louis,” a character based on his own paternal grandfather, a struggling theatrical actor who leaves his wife, Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), and young daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein), for another woman. What goes around comes around when the other woman, the failed actress Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), cheats on Louis with another man. Louis soon descends into suicidal despair but the muted way director Garrel and cinematographer Willy Kurant (Godard’s Masculin Feminin) capture it all in dispassionate black-and-white medium shots makes the drama feel all the more heartbreaking. Garrel’s films have always felt less formulaic and more commendably life-like than the work of most other directors and, in this regard, Jealousy is one of his best and most touching achievements.

9. Mr. Turner (Leigh, UK) – Landmark. Rating: 9.1

turner

Mike Leigh’s brilliant, quasi-secretive methods of constructing his unique brand of cinema — his completed screenplays apparently grow out of intensive improv-workshops with his actors — always yield spontaneous and dynamic results but there is something particularly fascinating about seeing his style applied to period pieces (as in Vera Drake, Topsy Turvy and now this); Leigh has a way of making the past feel less mummified than other directors. Mr. Turner is a biopic of 19th-century British painter J.M.W. Turner, a master famed for the diffused light in his seascapes, and focuses on the last couple decades of the artist’s life. Turner is inhabited by Timothy Spall, a terrific character actor with a stout physique and weak chin, who tears into his biggest movie role with aplomb — he and Leigh conceive of Turner as a larger-than-life, eccentric and self-centered prick whose face is twisted into a permanent grimace and who communicates with those around him, when at all, primarily through grunts, groans and other guttural utterances. The film essentially asks the age-old question of how an artist can be so sensitive to the beauty of nature while also being so insensitive to the people around him. While it’s not likely that Leigh identifies with Turner in the manner of Hayao Miyazaki and the protagonist of The Wind Rises (see capsule below), this is clearly a deeply felt work through which the filmmaker does convey personal feelings — perhaps nowhere more than in the unflattering and satirical portrait of a pretentious art critic. Leigh’s stock company of actors (Karina Fernandez, Lesley Manville, Ruth Sheen, Peter Wight, etc.) turn up to do creditable work but this is Spall’s show all the way.

8. The Babadook (Kent, Australia) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.2

babadook

The Babadook has racked up praise ever since its Sundance debut at the beginning of the year, although much of that has been of the “faint praise” that damns variety. This is hardly surprising given that it belongs to the still-disreputable horror genre. I have no qualms, however, about calling it a bona fide masterpiece. Not only is Aussie writer/director Jennifer Kent’s chiller highly original in conception, genuinely scary and visually striking, it’s also very beautiful as a character study. The complex dynamics of the mother-son relationship at its core — and the way this relationship is so obviously and refreshingly sketched by a female hand — has made the film continue to resonate with me over the past couple months since I first saw it. I am particularly grateful for the enormously satisfying ending in this regard; without giving anything away, please consider how the central location of a cellar might function as a Jungian metaphor for a compartment of the human mind in which the protagonist has “locked” certain thoughts and feelings away. Like all of the best monster movies, this is really about monsters from the id. Both Essie Davis (who deserves to go on to Naomi Watts-like fame) as a grief-stricken mother and Noah Wiseman as her psychologically disturbed son give incredible performances. More here.

7. Los Angeles Plays Itself (Anderson, USA) – Music Box. Rating: 9.3

losangeles

The “video essay” — you know, someone edits together clips from a bunch of different movies and then talks over them? — has become a viable and popular form of film criticism in the social media age  This form was practically invented by filmmaker, critic and teacher Thom Anderson with his 2003 masterpiece Los Angeles Plays Itself, a three-hour essay that consists almost entirely of clips from movies shot in Los Angeles. The excerpts range rom the silent era through the 21st century and are organized into three roughly hour-long chapters: “The City as Background,” “The City as Character” and “The City as Subject.” The result contains fascinating and highly subjective insights into architecture, sociology and film form; one of Anderson’s key arguments is that Hollywood has never been comfortable portraying itself realistically in the present, preferring instead the revisionist past (e.g., L.A. Confidential) or the dystopian future (e.g., Blade Runner) — while minority independent filmmakers (e.g., Kent McKenzie, Charles Burnett, etc.) have, by contrast, always been up to the task. Los Angeles Plays Itself has regrettably always been hard to see do to its dubiously legal status as a potentially copyright-infringing work. After Rodney Ascher’s popular but terible Room 237 recently set a precedent for feature-length movies using clips in the name of fair use, however, Cinema Guild has finally seen fit to give Anderson’s film a proper release. Anderson has slightly re-worked it for the occasion, adding a few new clips (including, appropriately, Mulholland Drive) and upgrading most of the old ones from VHS to Blu-ray quality. The final result thankfully played around the country theatrically — including a single night at Chicago’s Music Box Theater — in advance of its official home video debut.

6. The Strange Little Cat (Zurcher, Germany) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 9.4

strange

Swiss director Ramon Zurcher’s startling first feature, alternately funny and unsettling, is one of the finest German films in recent years, as well as one of the best debut features by anyone. Confined almost entirely to a single apartment-building setting, it concerns the gathering of an extended family over the course of a single day. In my original capsule review from when it played the Siskel Center’s European Union Film Festival, I compared The Strange Little Cat favorably to Jacques Tati’s Play Time (praise from me doesn’t come much higher) in the sense that it isn’t about the characters so much as it is “really about space and time, order and chaos, images and sounds, and the relationships between people and objects. Everything seems precisely choreographed yet elements of chance undoubtedly come into play, especially where the family’s cat and dog (the ultimate non-actors) are concerned.” This film is so charming, so weird, so self-assured; I can’t wait to see what Zurcher, a former student of the great Bela Tarr, comes up with next. More here.

5. The Wind Rises (Miyazaki, Japan) – Landmark. Rating: 9.5

thewindrises

Legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki brought down the curtain on his estimable career when he announced that The Wind Rises, a biopic of aeronautical engineer Jiro Horikoshi and his first film aimed squarely at an adult audience, would also be his last. As seen by Miyazaki, Jiro’s life plays out against the moving backdrop of 20th century Japanese history, including such key events as the 1923 Kanto earthquake, the tuberculosis epidemic (represented by Jiro’s doomed romance with his tubercular wife Nahoko) and, of course, World War II. This latter aspect engendered controversy when some among the left in Japan condemned Miyazaki’s refusal to condemn Jiro for designing fighter planes during the war (though the fact that the film simultaneously alienated Japanese conservatives for being “anti-Japanese” is surely an indication that he was doing something right). Miyazaki instead chooses to portray Jiro as an apolitical dreamer caught in the jaws of history; the way the character’s fantasy life is placed on the same plane as reality — as evidenced by his repeated encounters with his hero, a famous Italian engineer — results in something mature, beautiful and profound, and adds up to a kind of self-portrait on the part of the director. Also, if you want to know why good old-fashioned hand-drawn animation feels more personal than its digital counterpart, look no further than here.

4. Timbuktu (Sissako, Mauritania) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 9.5

timbuktu

Out of all the great new films I saw in 2014, none felt quite as vitally contemporary as this incredible true story of a group of radical Muslim terrorists taking over the title city in Mali. There are several deftly interleaved story threads here, all of which concern ordinary Malian citizens living under the yoke of a frightening new theocracy, and all of which manage to protest the insanity of religious extremism within a dramatic framework that feels completely naturalistic. Timbuktu also contains a vain of absurdist humor that rings bizarrely true, as in a scene where a group of jihadists debate the merits of their favorite soccer stars. Finally, writer/director Abderrahmane Sissako (Bamako) brings a real sense of visual poetry to his ‘Scope compositions; his feel for the desert landscapes of western Africa is as evocative here as John Ford’s was in his great late westerns. It is this effortless combination of docudrama and lyricism that ultimately lifts Timbuktu into the status of the transcendent. More here.

3. Under the Skin (Glazer, UK) – Landmark. Rating: 9.6

undertheskin2

I’ve been surprised by the number of people I’ve spoken to who were turned off by Jonathan Glazer’s mind-blowing horror/sci-fi/art film, starring Scarlett Johansson in her finest performance to date, seemingly because it deviates too much from what they expect from a horror, sci-fi, art or Scarlett Johansson film. Johansson daringly inhabits the role of an alien succubus who cruises contemporary Glasgow in a van at night — picking up, seducing and killing young men (most of whom are portrayed by non-actors initially filmed against their knowledge via hidden digital cameras). While having the alien function as a kind of mirror that reflects the basest instincts of men, Glazer’s movie may feel like an unusually cruel statement about humanity but this is more than counterbalanced by the director’s highly distinctive approach to constructing sound and image, which is so original that I felt exhilarated for days after first seeing it. I am especially fond of the seduction sequences, which imaginatively depict the alien’s victims willingly sinking into an inky black void, and Mica Levi’s otherworldly string-based score. Full review here.

2. Norte, the End of History (Diaz, Philippines, 2013) – Siskel Center. Rating: 9.7

Norte

“We are at that point where no one owns history anymore. We make up our own histories.” The title of Norte, the End of History comes from these lines of dialogue, spoken during a philosophical rap session by a group of Filipino law students. One of them, Fabian (Sid Lucero), a recent college dropout, will soon commit a horrific double murder for no good reason. Writer/director Lav Diaz takes this premise from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment but puts it to the service of very different ends; I think he mostly wants to show how, over time, Fabian becomes increasingly tormented from within as a result of his actions, even while going unpunished by the law. Conversely, Joaquin (Archie Alemania), the family man who is unjustly charged with the crimes, not only retains but amplifies his original compassionate nature even after spending years in prison. This masterpiece, which at four hours and 15 minutes is actually Diaz’s shortest film to date, is also the first to receive distribution in the United States. One can only hope that Cinema Guild’s release will open the door to more of his works turning up on these shores in the future. More here.

1. Boyhood (Linklater, USA) – Landmark. Rating: 10

boyhood1

Richard Linklater delivered his magnum opus with this 12-years-in-the-making intimate epic about one Texas boy’s life from the ages of six to 18. No mere gimmick, Linklater’s strategy of shooting an average of just 3-to-4 days per year has resulted in a profound meditation on the concept of time, as viewers are asked to observe not only the protagonist (Ellar Coltrane) grow and change over the years but also the actors playing his sister (Lorelei Linklater) and parents (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) — and are consequently invited to think about the passage of time in their own lives in the process. Linklater’s masterstroke was his decision to de-dramatize the material; many younger filmmakers could learn a thing or two from this film’s lack of external, dramatic action. In place of “plot,” he serves up a series of low-key but universally relatable scenes that movingly capture the essence of what it means to “grow up” in 2 hours and 46 minutes. Or, as Ethan Hawke put it in a recent interview, “What (Linklater)’s saying is that life doesn’t have to be hyperbolized. What we actually experience is good enough.” As always with this Linklater, there’s a great deal of humor and heart, but the film’s ingenious central conceit pushes Boyhood into the realm of a game-changer. Full review here.

Runners Up:

11. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Rivers/Russell, Estonia) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 9.1. More here.

12. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, Japan) – Siskel Center. Rating: 9.0

13. Nymphomaniac Vol. 1/Vol. 2 (Von Trier, Denmark/Germany/UK) – Landmark. Rating: 9.0. Full review here.

14. Winter Sleep (Ceylan, Turkey) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.8. More here.

15. Exhibition (Hogg, UK) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 8.8

16. The Blue Room (Amalric, France) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.7. More here.

17. Force Majeure (Ostlund, Sweden) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.7. More here.

18. Jimmy P. (Desplechin, France/USA) – Facets. Rating: 8.6. More here.

19. Journey to the West (Tsai, France/Taiwan) – VOD. Rating: 8.6. More here.

20. Gloria (Lelio, Chile) – Landmark. Rating: 8.6. Full review here.

21. Clouds of Sils Maria (Assayas, France) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.5. Full review here.

22. Bird People (Ferran, France) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.5. More here.

23. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, USA/Germany) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.4. Full review here.

24. The Iron Ministry (Sniadecki, USA/China) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.4. More here. Filmmaker interview here.

25. Snowpiercer (Bong, South Korea) – Music Box. Rating: 8.4. Full review here.

26. Locke (Knight, UK) – Landmark. Rating: 8.4

27. Viola (Pineiro, Argentina) – Doc Films. Rating: 8.3

28. Listen Up Philip (Perry, USA) – Music Box. Rating: 8.3

29. Pretty Butterflies (Mereu, Italy) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 8.3. More here.

30. Citizenfour (Poitras, USA/Germany, USA/Germany) – Landmark. Rating: 8.3

31. Land Ho! (Katz/Stephens, USA/Iceland) – Music Box. Rating: 8.3. More here.

32. We are the Best! (Moodysson, Sweden) – European Union Film Festival. Rating: 8.1

33. The Rover (Michod, Australia) – Century 12. Rating: 8.1

34. Manakamana (Spray/Velez, Nepal/USA) – Siskel Center. Rating: 8.1. More here.

35. Foxcatcher (Miller, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.0

36. Of Horses and Men (Erlingsson, Iceland) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.0. More here.

37. Top Five (Rock, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 8.0. More here.

38. Miss Julie (Ullmann, Norway/Ireland) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 8.0. More here. Filmmaker interview here here.

39. Metalhead (Bragason, Iceland) – Chicago International Movies and Music Festival. Rating: 8.0. More here.

40. The Longest Distance (Pinto, Venezuela) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 8.0. More here.

41. Venus in Fur (Polanski, France) – Music Box. Rating: 7.9

42. Gone Girl (Fincher, USA) – Wide Release. Rating: 7.9

43. Starred Up (Mackenzie, UK) – Facets. Rating: 7.9

44. The World of Goopi and Bagha (Ranade, India) – Chicago International Movies and Music Festival. Rating: 7.9. More here.

45. Anina (Soderguit, Uruguay) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 7.9. More here.

46. All the Women (Barrioso, Spain) – Chicago Latino Film Festival. Rating: 7.8. More here. Filmmaker here..

47. What Now? Remind Me (Pinto, Portugal) European Union Film Festival. Rating: 7.7

48. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jarmusch, USA) – Century 12. Rating: 7.7

49. It Follows (Mitchell, USA) – Chicago International Film Festival. Rating: 7.6. More here.

50. It Felt Like Love (Hittman, USA) – Facets. Rating: 7.5

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About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

47 responses to “Top Ten Films of 2014

  • jilliemae

    I love how eclectic your picks are; a great list of varying countries and genres. Will put many of these on my list for 2015!

  • Susan Doll

    A great selection of movies to shine a spotlight on. I like the diversity. I have to work much harder to see films like this now that I live in a minor market for alternative movies. Sarasota is lucky to have a fairly good art-house theater, which supports two to three tiny film fests each year. Then there is the Sarasota Film Fest, which should be better than it is. Of course the cat movie sounds right up my alley!

    • michaelgloversmith

      I hope you get to see THE STRANGE LITTLE CAT!

      I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Sarasota Film Fest, which has screened work by a lot of indie directors I admire (Alex Ross Perry, Kris Swanberg, etc.). I’m submitting COOL APOCALYPSE there and really hope we get in.

  • Silver Screenings

    I’ve not seen ANY of the movies on your Top 10…but it looks like there’s a lot o’ good viewing ahead. I cannot wait to see “Los Angeles Plays Itself”.

  • Dan Heaton

    It’s awesome to see LOS ANGELES PLAYS ITSELF on this list. I saw it at a local college film series here in St. Louis back in maybe like 2005 or so. I’ve been amazed during recent years to learn just how difficult it was to track down for a while. I’m glad that it’s returned this year. It’s truly a stunning documentary.

    • michaelgloversmith

      Thanks for the comment. I’m glad to see so much interest in this film on my list. I’m surprised it hasn’t appeared on more “Best of 2014” lists but I’m guessing that, in spite of the additions and A/V upgrade, most of its supporters still consider it a 2003 film.

  • John Charet

    Great List Mike:) Numbers 1, 8 and 10 are certainly going to be on my list:) I saw Mr. Turner on Sunday and I loved every minute of it:) You can expect to see Under the Skin in my runners up:) Keep up the great work as always:)

  • Beer Movie

    Great list as always Michael. Nice combination of things on here I really liked, and ones that I really want to see. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on The Babadook above. That is a film I adored and just picked up on blu-ray the other day to revisit.

    • Beer Movie

      Just gave the Babadook section another read and there is an error you may wish to correct – the son in the film is played by Noah Wiseman, not Daniel Henshall (who plays the nurse and friend of the Essie Davis character).

      Side note, have you seen Henshall’s performance in Snowtown from out here a few years ago? I genuinely think it is one of the best and most terrifying performances from the last decade. Casts a shadow over everything I see him in now.

      • michaelgloversmith

        Thanks for pointing out that error (the result of a too-quick cursory glance at the film’s IMDb credits). I just corrected it.

        I have not seen SNOWTOWN but I’ve been curious about it since it played an arthouse theater near me in Chicago a few years ago. Thanks for the reminder!

  • Top 100 Films of the Decade, pt. 4 (#25 – #1): A Contest | White City Cinema

    […] Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako follows up Bamako, his great 2006 indictment of the World Bank and western capitalism, with an equally damning indictment of third-world religious extremism. This lightning-in-a-bottle masterpiece, based on real events that occurred in 2012 but which seem even more prescient following the rise of ISIS, concerns the occupation of the Malian city of Timbuktu by militant Islamist rebels. Sissako’s eye-opening film intertwines several narratives, all of which dramatize the clash between foreign “jihadists” and the moderate Muslim natives of Mali, most prominent among them the story of a cattle farmer (Ibrahim Ahmed) whose wife is coveted by the region’s new extremist ruler. Like last year’s A Touch of Sin, this vital movie offers a keyhole through which viewers can peer into an authentic dramatization of pressing global issues that goes way beyond mere news headlines. What really elevates Timbuktu to the status of essential viewing, however, is the way Sissako brings to his story the point of view of poetry — most evident in a stunningly composed scene of conflict between the cattle farmer and a fisherman, and an exquisitely lovely montage sequence involving a soccer match played without a ball. More here. […]

  • Sebin Puthenthara S

    The Babadook (2014) is an Australian horror movie written and directed by Jennifer Kent. The movie deals with the story of Amelia, a single mother and a nurse, her son Samuel (Sammy), and their parent-child relationship with each other as unnatural events happen in their household. Although it is Kent’s first movie, the movie is confidently made and has such good production quality that one doesn’t feel like it is the first movie written and directed by someone.

    In the story, Amelia had her husband Robbie die in a car crash 6 years ago on the day Samuel was born, as they were driving to the hospital in the rain. She resents her son for that – this is shown to the viewer when she isn’t paying attention to Samuel all the time, like when he is showing a magic trick and Amelia is not looking at it but rather getting him ready for school, or in the beginning of the film is when she moves Sammy’s hands from her and moves away from him when he’s sleeping as if she doesn’t want him to be hugging her. Later on in the movie, Amelia flips out at Samuel and says she wishes he was dead, instead of her husband Robbie.

    An average viewer would think that the movie falls into the ‘Supernatural Horror’ genre at first. There is a mysterious book that appears in the bookshelf Amelia’s house, with a strong saturated red color cover and a dark prophetic “story” of Mr. Babadook, the big dark evil monster who ‘gets stronger the more you deny” his existence. The movie portrays his actions as very real but not physical at times – for example, when he scares Amelia by climbing on the ceiling of her bedroom and lounging towards her, or when he appears above her car while she is driving, causing her to collide with another car in traffic.

    The Babadook would appear very real, and supernatural to the viewer – until they look at the symbolism and pointers in the movie that suggest this might all be a metaphor for something else very different. Mr. Bankbook is present everywhere in the house but he seems focused on the basement of the house – where Amelia keeps all the stuff that belonged to Robbie. When she is down in the basement, in her peripherals she sees a jacket and hat in that belonged to Robbie, shocking her as this looked very much like Mr. Babadook – this could be a foreshadowing to the fact that Babadook is actually Amelia’s inner demon, formed by her resentfulness towards Sammie for being the cause of her husband’s death. Just like a psychological trauma, the more you try to suppress it, the stronger the inner struggle (the Babadook) gets. This is when you realize the movie is in reality a psychological horror than supernatural horror story.

  • Charles Andre Castro

    The Babadook (2014) is an Australian film directed by Jennifer Kent. The main characters are Amelia and Samuel. It’s a mother and child relationship.

    In the beginning, the child has behavior that could get hurt some people because of the dangerous items he made using the items from Samuel’s father at the basement of their house. Also, doing risky things like he kicked Claire’s daughter because of her making fun of Samuel’s father. In addition, I believed only the mother was having hallucinations because of her problems like her husband died the day of Samuel was born and Samuel was being stubborn. So, it is really hard to be a single mother.

    The Sound effects, when they open the Babadook book they make it louder and louder until it gets to the highest point to make it more intense. The film resolution or color is clear yellowish and bluish. The movie effects are great on how the monster turned into clothes and went to the floor when the mother was carrying her son screaming “What do you want”. The whispers were like real when you hear it, it makes it scarier.

    Overall this movie is great, it is scary, suspense, and there’s a deep meaning to it, unlike the other horror movies. Also, I believed that this is more Psychological horror because the mother’s emotions get into her head and make it worse when you can’t handle the situation. You might think it is supernatural horror because of possession on what happened to Samuel. I think it could be his mother’s hallucinations.

  • Neil Chisholm

    “The Babadook” is a creepy, tense, nerve-wracking, scary movie from Australia, shot for a tuppence, which gives good value if you want to be frightened and disturbed. The Babadook seems to be a materialization of the horror Amelia feels over the death of her husband in a crash, along with the resentment she feels over her son whose birth was the cause.
    Writer-director Jennifer Kent slowly turns up the unease and shocks from a simmer to full boil as the Babadook tries to possess Amelia and put poor Samuel in peril. The book itself starts off a bit dark and foreboding, then goes down, down, down to really horrifying images and deadly predictions. Ripping it and burning it cannot destroy it. Meanwhile we start to see the Babadook materialize in the shadows and off to the side, looking utterly unreal but none the less terrifying. The movie knows that monsters are scariest if not seen too clearly, and just for short jolts. The dark is always scary to us instinctively, and that’s where the Babadook lurks. Naturally, the basement is the scariest part of most houses, being like the murky human subconscious itself, and this is where the story is resolved. To witness Samuel turn a coin into a bird at the end seemed to acknowledge the whole story to be a fantasy.

    “The Babadook” also harkened back to the films of Georges Melies, Val Lewton, and Mario Bava. It in turn was a big influence on “Hereditary,” from the unhappy, grieving mother character who hurtfully castigates her son, to her possession and defying gravity by swinging from the ceiling. In “Babadook,” however, the ending is apparently innocuous, with evil driven into the corners of the basement. I would put “The Babadook” on the short list of movies that actually made me feel frightened.

  • Zophia Ruetsche

    Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film “The Babadook” is a unique take on the common cinematic theme of a woman descending into madness. While “The Babadook” is a horror film that partially relies on a monster to frighten audiences, the greatest horror within this film is experiencing the utter the lack of control the character of Amelia has in her situation. Initially, this lack of control is presented in our frustration with her son, Samuel’s antics towards what seems to be an imaginary monster, a unreasonable fear that all children have. Yet as the movie progresses, the unreasonable fear of the “Babadook” latches onto the mother. We see her become delusional, as she imagines things that have not happened in reality: cockroaches crawling through holes in the wall, her son’s bloody corpse lying on the couch, even the films of Georges Melies morphing into visions of the “Babadook” as she watches her television late at night.

    In many films, and reality, women are often dismissed as delusional, and the character of Amelia is certainly no exception, as we see her be snickered at by police offices and judged by social workers as “crazy”. Because of some directorial choices made by Kent, including the inclusion of seeing Amelia being deemed as insane from her perspective, we as viewers feel the sense of hopelessness she has, in a situation where we were otherwise bound to deem Amelia insane like the other characters of the film did. Through female director Jennifer Kent allowing the audience to see and experience the confusion and fear that the character of Amelia went through first hand, rather than fully spectating her madness from an outside point of view, we are taking the threat of the “Babadook” seriously, the sense of panic derived from the events in this film are exemplified. Horror films are not often emotional, however, with the “Babadook”, the audience feels more than in touch with the emotional state of the mother, Amelia.

  • Jeremy Sebastian

    As someone who really doesn’t watch horror films, I found “The Babadook” a film to be unsettling and emotionally hard to watch more than something that was scary. They had unexpected jump scares, but I think that a lot of horror uses those techniques. It’s something that is not new. This film really understood how we should fear within ourselves.

    What really made the “The Babadook” scary for me is it presented a powerful message that if we don’t deal with our personal fears, they will come back to haunt us. The personal fear that was presented in this movie was grief that Amelia was experiencing after the loss of her husband in a fatal car accident. She was not willing to face the fact that she has to move on with her life after the loss. Because she hasn’t taken care of this loss, it has projected itself into this psychological monster within her called the Babadook. The Babadook is this inner demon that is affecting her life. Her son witnesses the repercussions of her self-denial is getting more monstrous. When her son sees her unstable, monstrous behavior, his imagination allows him to tell his mother that the Babadook is causing her mother to become monstrous. Basically, he recognizes that something is wrong with her mom and it’s scaring him. But she doesn’t want to admit that something is wrong which feeds the Babadook to cause her to go insane. The heighten visuals, sounds, and special effects really showed what she was experiencing in her mind.

    After seeing this film, I would compare it to the Hero’s Journey, but I have slightly tweaked it and called it, “Fighting Your Inner Demon’s Journey.” The main story is Amelia eventually having to face her inner demon. What proves to be the obstacle is her unwillingness to live with the loss of her husband and focus on caring for her son. After the tragic death of her husband, while being pregnant with her son, she goes through a horrific journey within herself needing to have her face the demon. What was really scary after watching this was how much grief can get the best out of people. If Amelia wasn’t able to handle her Babadook, I can’t even imagine how devastating to see it take away not only her but her son. That is truly dark. I came out of this film asking myself what truly is the real monster within me that I have to face? Overall, good film because of the story. Would I watch this again? Maybe. It’s a hard film for me to watch because of how dark the message of this film can leave the viewer.

  • Mark Regalado

    Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film, “The Babadook”, was an incredible supernatural/psychological horror film. Kent did a nice job in transitioning who we, the audience, believe the protagonist is in the beginning, and essentially who we feel sympathy towards at the end. In the beginning of the film, Kent allows us to see the widowed main character, Amelia, as she struggles raising her son, Samuel, to society’s expectations. As the film continues, Kent begins to make Amelia’s choice of words and actions aggressive towards her son making us question who is really the harmful one in the relationship.

    As the date in the film approaches Samuel’s birthday, he begins act out irrationally, engineering homemade weapons in hopes of being able to defend himself from a supernatural monster he read in a book, called The Babadook. Amelia is forced to withdraw Samuel out of school for taking a weapon to class. As the film continuous and Samuel’s fear of this monster grows, Kent begins to play with our own ideas of fictional and reality. One of the main examples is the red Babadook book that keeps reappearing. Amelia had destroyed the book by tearing off its pages and later burning them. Kent later makes the book reappear in the Amelia’s home which shouldn’t be physically possible. The films logical explanation is that someone is stalking Amelia and her son, but what Kent does here is actually make us begin to wonder if Samuel actually sees something and their are greater forces involved. Kent also brings The Babadook’s voice to narration whenever the Amelia is alone at night. As the audience’s curiosity takes over in the film, Samuel predicts that The Babadook will return at night, only to watch a later scene where he screams and we see a drawer fallen over. Our initial reaction when Kent shows the empty room is to believe that Samuel was right about the presence of some supernatural power and it had taken him. Later the scene turns the camera underneath the bed, where we see a stunned Samuel shaking. Throughout this film, Kent does a fantastic job of making us wonder whether to believe in the supernatural, or as many of us do outside of watching film, continue with our traditional belief in science and the logic that monsters don’t exist.

  • Carli Romanek

    I thoroughly enjoyed “The Babadook.” I thought it was very interesting and raised a lot of different emotions because it was about a mother and son relationship that was very out of the ordinary. The Mother Amelia is a struggling widow who is trying to take care of her hyperactive son, who is very destructive and likes to act abnormally. She struggles to deal with him because she is on her own and doesn’t have any other help in her life. The worst part is that her husband died on Samuel’s birthday taking her to the hospital.

    Samuel continues to act worse the closer his day comes and creates more weapons because he is scared of a monster in the book he is reading. This happens to be called the babadook. After getting kicked out of school and treated like an outcast he is taken to a doctor and put on tranquilizers and the mom tears the book up and makes sure no one is able to ever find it again. Later on, it shows back up in the house and the mom freaks out, and things continue to spiral out of control. Throughout the film, there are various horror elements I would like to address. The first one is physical, where we see bugs crawling everywhere, and the saw used at the beginning of the movie. The second element is psychological, because we hear screeching sounds, mood swings, and you start to see the mom may very well be a villain because she doesn’t know how to handle her child and went crazy. Lastly, there is supernatural, which is when we see the monsters come to life and specifically the one from the book with the hat and scary teeth. Also, the deceased dad, who says “give me the boy.”

    Overall, this movie was fabulous and offered something interesting because of the dreary colors and interesting storyline. I feel as if you can tell this movie is made by a female because there are high emotions and it is about motherly instincts and dynamics. I think Jennifer Kent did a great job.

  • Niket Patel

    Overall, The Babadook was a well-constructed film in terms of the development of characters. Throughout the progression of the plot, the audience takes on various connections and emotions towards characters such as Amelia and Samuel. The mother and son relationship presented in the film provided a different outlook on the horror end of the spectrum by incorporating significant interactions. For example, many of the issues put forth by Samuel could only be expressed from a single mother’s point of view. The director Jennifer Kent did a great job exposing the mothers struggles and making it seem as if supernatural traumas were involved. Also, as the film reaches its falling action towards the resolution, there is a strong shift in character alliance. This decision was a great way to keep the audience interacted by creating an alternative association with characters.

    Furthermore, The Babadook had a great play on the general inclusion of horrors. When the red book was initially presented in the film the audience may have felt some supernatural presents in existence. However, as the plotline developed more, psychological factors were uncovered and made the true horror of the story questionable. The mother Amelia had a long history of horrific psychological stress and it continued to build up as the film went on. Small details such as sleep deprivation, medication, and hallucination lead to realistic paranormal activity. Although, the power of the mind was at its full showcase in this film. Minor turn of events caused the main characters to lean more towards a supernatural cause instead of blaming their own mental health.

    In conclusion, the personal interactions of the characters fed the supernatural aspect of the film, but the audience was able to take away a different element of horror. This dilemma allowed Kent to make the audience think a certain way and question the resolution. Kent benefited by making this film more of a psychological horror because it also amplified the relationship of Amelia and Samuel.

  • Kenta Kume

    Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film, “The Babadook”, is a gripping thriller/horror film that tells the story of a single mother and her son, and their struggle to fight with the demons inside of them. At first, the film starts normally, they seem like a normal mom and child. I wondered where the father was, but assumed that it would be explained later, or maybe he would show up. As the film progresses, you see the problems that they have hidden under the surface. The son is hyperactive, and has behavior problems at school, making weapons. The mother is stressed out and doesn’t have a husband to fall back on, because he died while driving her to the hospital, in order to have Samuel, her son. Samuel finds a book called Mr. Babadook that speaks about a humanoid-like monster that comes to you after knocking and making certain noises. The mom is spooked out by this and promptly gets rid of it, but Samuel starts believing in Mr. Babadook and starts persisting to her that it’s real. He even has a seizure, and this increases the mother’s stress, making her lose her relationships with her only family members left, and her neighbors and friends. She is increasingly isolated, while Samuel is seemingly going crazy. Mr. Babadook manifests himself in her life and she gets mad at Samuel. Mr. babadook seems to take her over, as she kills the family dog and tries to kill samuel also, but samuel succeeds in getting Mr. babadook out of her and together they tame mr. babadook.
    This film was interesting because mr. babadook does seem kind of real at first, and at first I thought it was just a straightforward film about a monster that terrorizes these two people, but then you realize down the line that mr. babadook is basically a metaphor for the death of her husband that she hasn’t gotten over and how she’s dealing with it. Because she hasn’t gotten over it, even 6 years later, she isn’t truly loving her son and that results in these behavioral problems that Samuel has. In the beginning of film, you just think he’s acting irrationally, but you sort of realize by the end that he isn’t really at fault. By the end of the film, it wraps up pretty happily, which is unusual for a thriller, but I thought it was a good ending. The mom learns to tame and deal with Mr. babadook and co-exist with him while also loving her son more than ever.

  • Alex P

    The film Babadook is a grizzly look into the progression of mental illness and being unable to accept the past which can only jeopardize the future. With that being said, the film is disguised as a supernatural story however is actually psychological, which is the most pure and relatable horror. The babadook is the embodiment of her fear and anxiety from the death of her husband that plummets her into paranoid schizophrenia, and just like the illness in actuality, she is unable to realise it. For example, the Babadook book appears without any explanation and without question. She has to come face to face with herself and the dark past. By the end of the film she has learned to face her fears and accept her own mental well-being. She has become the monster that her son fears because she has resentment and guilt while she pushed away anyone that tries to help her and her son. But the boy does not give up on his mother and through his love she is able to face the monster, herself. She cannot get rid of the babadook. But acknowledge that’s it’s there and learn to live with it. By the end of the film she is able to have control of the babadook and accept her past. She is able to have control over herself.

  • Jonathan Tapper

    The Babadook is a very interesting film. As a horror film, sound is a major tool. There are very many times at which sound is used to amplify the horror, hearing things that we can’t see, leading the viewer to think there is something there that really isn’t there. We suspect every little creak or groan could be another sign of the monster. But they’re all taken from the mother’s perspective. As an auditory experience, the movie loves to play with sound. We hear numerous auditory clues that something is nearby, but nothing is there. The viewers sense of reality is being thrown off. Which the movie does in more ways than one. We see numerous times that the house itself changes – even though nothing physically changes. The lighting changes, with darks becoming darker as the mother becomes more and more “possessed” by the babadook. When she was sitting and watching the TV, we see the background become darker and it focuses on her face, which is now significantly more pale than it was in the beginning.

  • Robert Shaf

    I’m usually not a big fan of horror movies, but I thought the Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent, was a fantastic horror film. I liked how it was more than just cheesy scares and more about the relationship between this mother and son. If I didn’t know it was a female director going into the movie, I definitely would have guessed that it was after seeing the movie. Jennifer Kent did a great job with the relationship between Amelia and Samuel because of how emotional and complicated it was.
    I also thought the use of color was very interesting. Amelia’s home was very dark with a lot of blues, grays, and greens. I think the inside of her home represents how she feels inside since she lost her husband. Her basement has all of his possessions which shows she’s still not letting him go even though she said she did. When the red book, Mr. Babadook appeared, it really stood out with all the darker colors around.
    I would classify this movie mainly as a psychological horror film. This is because I think Amelia went crazy and the Babadook was all in her head. I think the Babadook represented grief and Amelia didn’t know how to handle it or cope with it, which caused her to lose her mind. Also, Samuel says that you can’t get rid of the Babadook. I think that means that you can’t really get rid of the grief, you just need to learn how to deal with it. At the end of the movie, she actually faced her problems and the Babadook retreated. Amelia finally learned how to cope with her grief even though it is always going to be there, just like how the Babadook is still there in the basement.

  • Kevin Sudie

    Although I had my ears covered and eyes squinted for a majority of this movie, I really enjoyed the psychological aspects of the plot. I was originally convinced they would not reveal the face of the Babadook and leave it up to the viewer to put a face to their own personal version of “fear”, so I regrettably let my guard down whenever the music got tense. Big mistake. There were only a few jump-out scary parts, but the point of this film was to focus not so much on the monster but on Amelia’s self-conjuring of the monster and how she dealt with it. I believe the monster turning into her dead husband revealed to Amelia what exactly this monster was, and helped her figure out how to subdue it. I agree that the ending is “happy”, but it is actually kind of creepy and existential because that pain never goes away. I think the monster might actually embody the fear of death, and only feeding that fear at an animalistic, worm-eating level can we have the will to move forward. That’s awfully dark and freaky for what I thought would be a simple monster movie.

  • Mark Badel

    It is pretty rare for me to watch horror films. I normally do not go out of my way to watch horrors because they all always feel the same. I also usually hate all the characters, and the plot of the films. It is always the same cheap jump scares and clueless characters dying. I try to imagine myself in the scenario and what I would do, the answer is usually to just leave. However, something was different about The Babadook. Instead of some “haunted house” that the character could have just left, or some serial killer the characters could have just killed. The enemy was the main character. This movie was a true psychological horror. This wasn’t something that could just be killed or walked away from. It was an internal battle for sanity, and the aftermath of such a battle. This is something that really freaked me out. Instead of the silly idea of ghosts and demons, this film could very well be a real situation for some as they lose their minds to a mental illness.
    The movie was also shot really great. The old wooden home painted in blue really gave off some eerie vibes that played really well with the overall theme. The fact that a home, a place that is supposed to be sacred and safe, is the most frightening place in the entire movie shows how well Kent was able to build the scene. Though, I did not really pick up any clues that the movie was made by a female director. That is to say, if I did not know the director was a female before watching the film, I would have never guessed it. Looking back at it though the mother and son dynamic is not one that could have been easily emulated by a male director. A male director would also not be able to really portray a widows perspective as well as a female director could. I am sure that if the director was a male that the movie would have certainly been different. If a male director tried to recreate this movie, I would not be surprised if that movie would not turn out as good Kent’s version.
    The ending of the movie is also something I feel like I haven’t seen in horror films in a while (or maybe it’s because I don’t really watch them). It was so refreshing to see that there was an actual point to the movie and we as the audience were not left unsatisfied or broken by fear. Overall, this movie was really great. I probably will never watch it again because it genuinely did freak me out, but that’s what it was supposed to do. Instead, I’ll just recommend it to everyone I know and have them a little spooked as well.

  • Sana Lalani

    I personally do not like horror movies because I get scared pretty easily, however, I did enjoy this one. I mainly liked that the whole movie was not just focused on the monster, but more so on the main character’s life and dealing with the issues that she has been suppressing for seven years. I agree with you that this film was more character-centered, and it focused on the relationship between the mother and son. The film shows how she acted as though she loved her son and accepted him in the beginning. However, it was not until the very end where she accepted her husband’s death was she able to accept her son completely. She encouraged his creativity of making weapons and being different than other children. She encouraged his magic tricks and played along. I’m glad there was a happy ending to it all.
    I also think the way in which the film was developed and the immense focus on the characters’ portrayal had a lot to do with the director being a female. I felt that there was more emotion in the film than there was horror. Don’t get me wrong, I was still scared and despised the painful and ugly noises whenever the Babadook presence came. However, I could really feel the struggle Amelia was having in trying to lead a normal life, handling her son, and suppressing her emotions about her dead husband. Her love for her son eventually overpowers the monster in the ending scene where she is screaming while holding him. It shows the motherly nature which I think could only be depicted so perfectly by a female director. That is just my opinion on it and others may think differently. I also think the director’s background in acting could’ve helped in terms of the way the characters were portrayed as well.
    I also agree with you that the actors Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman did tremendously beautiful performances. I think Noah Wiseman was my favorite as that is probably a difficult role to do especially the scene where he has a fit in the car. His love for his mother never faltered even when she tried to kill him, and I think it’s his innocence which led him not to give up on his mother.

  • Theodore G

    The ‘Babadook’ is a movie about the haunting that happens to a mother and her son preceding the death of her husband. The babadook itself is a monster that, throughout the movie, is haunting the pair and not only causing hallucinations, but is also causing the individuals pressure to create physical harm to each other. The babadook can represent many things because throughout the movie, the babadook appears in completely different places. There are multiple reoccurring themes during the movie such as unconditional love but also includes a sort of tragedy within the movie. The son, Samuel, exhibits some kind of strange behavior and for a while, we don’t know what the problem is with Samuel. At the beginning of the movie the mother is seen reading books to her son; when she reads the babadook storybook, the son reacts in a negative way right away. Although Samuel liked to play with magic and such long before he was introduced to the babadook storybook so he was a little bit eccentric, once he was read the book he started seeing the visitor, his behavior became sporadic. Shortly after that, the mother starts exhibiting the very same behavior and starts to see hallucinations. She views her dead husband in a few of them and also starts seeing many cockroaches within the walls and crawling around the house. It wasn’t shown that the husband died preceding the film but we know that Amelia is a single mother.
    At first, when the babadook appears, he appears to the little boy the way that the book foreshadows. The book then states that he would appear to the mother and then it did. After Amelia burns the book the writing changes and then as the book states, she kills the dog. She gets possessed by the babadook (per se) and hunts down every living creature in her house. In the scene where the son ties up the mother, it is known that there is a theme of unconditional love because the son says that although the mother doesn’t love him, he won’t leave her. Sam says that he loves his mother right at the moment she tries to choke him to death. When she realizes that the son would keep his promise, the mother threatens to kill the babadook if it touches her son. This exalts a theme of unconditional love that I haven’t seen in a horror movie for a good while. The way I initially interpreted the existence of the babadook was that it represented the grief and sorrow that the family was feeling because of the death of the late husband.
    The husband’s death was caused by an accident on the way to the hospital on the day of Samuel’s birth. On their way home, Sam and Amelia almost got into a car crash and it sort of symbolized a recurring action that would cause the husband to come back to mind. When the babadook appeared again, it became easier for the mother to feel grief and sorrow and it elevated the deranged mental state that the mother had crossed over into. Additionally, due to this I think that the babadook could have represented the husband because appeared at a time Gracie (the neighbor) pointed out to be close to the time of the Samuel’s father’s death. Towards the end of the movie, Amelia feeds worms to the babadook, and it is like she is feeding a meal to her husband. After that she puts the worms down and then she puts her hands up as if she is on a thrill ride as if she (through another interpretation) is feeding her mental fears once again. She overcomes them and returns to her son however. There is a huge theme of the connection between love and death because the fact that Amelia and Samuel almost died in a car crash is apparent that the husband’s death is a large factor in the movie.

  • Abbas Jaffri

    Let me start by saying that I am not a horror movie fan at all. The idea of someone or something that will come up to your face from behind the tree and scare you to death is somewhat hilarious to me. May be whenever I watched a horror movie I always looked for something that I can relate to. Something that will be close to reality and not vampires and zombies. After a long time I felt that connection with a horror movie when I was watching The Babadook. It felt like I was looking at a painting that is telling me a story beneath it. I find the movie as a psychological thriller because it shows how the fears that we avoid to acknowledge will become greater and haunt us until we face them once and for all. The movie has amazing gray dark and dim color contrast with bright and sharp color props. Also that child did an excellent job!

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