I’ve been debating this article for a long, long time now. There’s a lot of hype bouncing around the horror-sphere surrounding these two films, The Babadook and It Follows, and for good reason – we don’t see a lot of unique ideas well executed with enough budget and studio support to properly pull them off.
Initially, I absolutely loved The Babadook and despised It Follows. Over time, and numerous viewings of each, I find my opinions shifting, that I enjoy and appreciate The Babadook less, and It Follows more… so what follows is my dissection of my love/hate relationship with two of the most critically acclaimed horror films of 2015.
If you haven’t seen both, stop reading now. THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD
What makes 'It Follows' and 'The Babadook' stand out?
Whether it's a sexually transmitted murderous demon or a haunted children's book, you have to admit the writers of both The Babadook and It Follows really hit on some intensely interesting ideas
Brilliant direction and storytelling
Both films follow a ‘slow burn’ in the sense that tension and fear builds throughout the first act (though It Follows is much faster in this regard) but the viewer is never left bored or wanting.
Stunning cinematography and composition
Gorgeous and spectacularly haunting, both films paint such a terrifically terrifying picture I found them staying with me for days and weeks after. Even It Follows, angry as it left me, still had me thinking back to specific scenes and marveling at their ability to captivate me.
Spot on performances
I don’t mean to say here that any of the actors in either The Babadook or It Follows were particularly GOOD, but rather that they fit the roles they were playing perfectly. Sure, the son in The Babadook started as the most absolutely obnoxious little jerk, but he was SUPPOSED to. By contrast, I wouldn’t dare use the word ‘jerk’ with ANYONE in It Follows as they all lack both the warmth and the depth… but they were SUPPOSED to, so in that, they succeeded.
I’ve said this multiple times in multiple articles and it bears repeating here – solid and satisfying endings are damn difficult to pull off in horror. DAMN difficult. So when two films with all the above qualities also manage to nail a solid ending, it makes you stand up and pay attention. AGAIN, I’m not speaking yet to interpretation of the endings, or whether or not I even ENJOYED them, but they are solid.
Assuming these above points are valid (and while obviously opinion, its my damn opinion so of course they are) lets get in to the nitty gritty.
Why I love ‘The Babadook’ and ‘It Follows’
On first viewing, both films are starkly haunting. For different reasons, but of all the adjectives my pickled brain rattles off this one stands out as the most apt. The mood is tense and foreboding, unsettling, with little room for hope on all sides, creating the perfect horror environment, one that I am continually searching for and one that makes me such a huge fan of the genre. The viewer finds themselves in a bleak world, with little hope of reprieve.
Another key element to any decent horror movie is quality scoring, whether it be the actual soundtrack, ambient tracks or SFX – and in both The Babadook and It Follows the sound design is absolutely perfect, nearly whimsical. I’m actually listening to the soundtrack to It Follows as I write this, it's that good, with a perfect mix of retro and staccato arrhythmic noise that keeps ones interest while perched on the edge of the seat.
While the first act of The Babadook is just a little unnerving, and the character development exhausting, the first act of It Follows is wonderful. Damn near a perfect exposition. In the second act things pick up for both films, with the conflict finally developing and real fear building. Its honestly difficult to watch either of these films by yourself late at night with the lights off, something that is again sorely lacking in so many predictable pieces of crap churned out by the major studios.
Why I hate both
For The Babadook, it's a pretty simple reason that’s matured in the back of my mind over time. As I said earlier, I completely adored The Babadook the first time I saw it. I recommended it to friends, even rated it a solid 8/10 here. I’ve seen it in varying degrees of sobriety as well, to confirm my feelings… but something’s been bugging me.
At first I took the film at face value (serious spoilers ahead here) and just sort of accepted that the spirit of her dead husband had come to haunt them, attempting to claim them for the afterlife that they might spend time together in death, and that by triumphing together, Mother and Son had overcome his evil intentions, and now lived with him relatively harmoniously in the basement. And I was OK with this ending! I accepted the shitty antics of the bratty snot nosed little fucker, the increasingly bedraggled and frustratingly unkempt mom, because it seemed like a cool supernatural flick.
Unfortunately, it's pretty obvious this ISN'T the case. Really, The Babadook is a story of a broken and increasingly abusive woman overcoming her personal demons and depression with the help of her child and finally coping with the reality of their lives together. Why does that suck? It betrays the basic concept and appealing nature of the film. Makes it almost basic, and that cool unique hook taunts me. I know for some people that’s fine, and they enjoy that, but it really makes the rest of the movie not WORTH it to me. It kills the payoff, and has made me resent the movie over time.
By contrast, It Follows is pants-tenting-ly stuffed with potential. The hard to place time period, wonderful color scheme, costuming and location (Detroit? Sure as shit feels like Detroit) set a perfect stage. The timelessness alone forces the viewer to just focus on the content of the movie itself, rather than identifying time periods or location, so your undivided attention is on the story about to be told.
The characters are just uninteresting enough to be anyone of us growing up, or even us, and the monster, a sexually transmitted unstoppable demon that can take the face of anyone, familiar or strange, is absolutely terrifying. It had me thinking almost immediately "What would I do? How long does it take to walk across the US? How often would I have to move to evade it?", which is the strange sort of appeal that makes post-apocalyptic films so enjoyable.
The stage was perfectly set for an amazing and enduring horror film, one I’d be talking about with friends and fans for years. In the theater by the second act I was literally quivering with anticipation, whispering "oh shit oh shit" under my breath.
And then, they started messing up. Breaking their own rules, and mythology they’d JUST created – with the dude who passes on the demon somehow not spotting it at the beginning, with said monster sometimes stopping or seemingly waiting, then suddenly gaining logic. The climactic confrontation scene is comical, the ‘fight’ anything but climactic, and the minutes afterward full of, frankly, bullshit. There’s some hinted logic that the two heroes passed on the demon by sleeping with prostitutes and strangers, but beyond that, it all just sort of falls apart.
Bottom line, It Follows is absolute garbage because it comes so close, and to be perfectly trite, burns its wings on the sun, and comes crashing down. It could have been SO MUCH better that it angers me to no end that it wasn’t.
Both The Babadook and It Follows are ‘good’, ‘decent’, and ‘above average’ films for their own reasons... They’re a solid 7/20 in a massive pool of 3/10 and 4/10. The Babadook went for the safe story, and It Follows shot for the moon and ended up floating in the void of space. What’s worse, is that they could have been 10/10, and that breaks my blackened heart.
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