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Ink & Pixel: The Babadook

11.10.2016

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

We are all familiar with cinematic monsters like Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, and Jason Voorhees. These spine-chilling specters of dreams, family trees, and moments of inebriated intimacy have terrorized cinephiles for generations, though they're hardly the scariest of their benevolent brethren. No, in my personal opinion, the most frightening of all the nightmarish nemesis is the boogeyman.

As a formless thing made of fear and loathing, boogeymen have been poisoning the hearts and minds of individuals for centuries. They're the sort of creature that will dig deep into the darkest recesses of your psyche, discover what breaks you, and then use that information to orchestrate their wicked ways. No one is safe from their mental meddling and treacherous tricks. Even now, I can feel the chilled breath of a sinister shadow at the auricle of my ear, it's teeth chattering in a maddeningly idiosyncratic rhythm. I've been warned that it won't leave me until today's article is through. So please, allow me to invite you on a look back at the 2014 horror masterpiece, THE BABADOOK.

Written and shot by first-time director Jennifer Kent, THE BABADOOK was produced by Kristina Ceyton and Kristian Moliere. The film stars the talents of Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, and Ben Winspear. Created as a more elaborate version of Kent's short-film, MONSTER, this twisted tale of paternal love gone mad will have you looking over your shoulder and questioning every creak in your house for days after you've experienced it. If it were not for the efforts of Entertainment One, IFC Films, and Icon Productions, one of the best psychological horror films I've ever seen might never have been distributed.

For those of you who have yet to experience THE BABADOOK, permit me a paragraph to give you a spoiler-free synopsis. Amelia Vanek (Essie Davis) is exhausted. A widowed mother to her six-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), Amelia is rapidly descending on a downward spiral of sleeplessness while trying to make ends meet after the death of her husband, Oskar. It's been seven years since Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) perished in a car accident, while transporting his wife to the hospital on the day of their son's birth. The tragic event has had a lasting effect on Amelia and Samuel both. The roots of a mother's love run deep, but they're about to be excavated by a baleful boogeyman whose not about to let either of his victims move on from their shattered past.

That's it. That's all you get. Seriously, this movie is best approached as a blind-watch. I urge you all to resist the urge to research it further and just dive in.

Lending to the creation of the film's mythos was Production Designer, Illustrator, and Paper Paper Engineer Alex Juhasz. Together with the help of Jennifer Kent, Alex designed and fabricated the mysterious pop-up book, THE BABADOOK, to be used in the film. Rather than pick apart the crafty creative process for this important prop, I invite you to check out the following journal entree – which I've taken from Alex's personal online blog.

“On this project, I was tasked with designing the character of “The Babadook” and ultimately creating an illustrated pop-up book for the film. Collaborating with director Jennifer Kent and conceptualizing her vision of the book was an exciting privilege. Finding the right mood for the illustrative style proved to be its own endeavor. “The Babadook” is a dark manifestation of repressed human emotions. It was important for Jen to make sure there were two layers to the character. Mister Babadook is a monster playing at being human. Along with his costume, he wears a mask with a fixed expression, a misguided approximation of what it thinks a man is. I had to keep the simple, graphic aesthetic of a children’s book while subverting the images with the unsettling evil presence of the monster lurking beneath it’s pages. It had to look hand made, delicately crafted but not unskilled. I began the book in Sydney and finished up at the Adelaide studio, in South Australia. The building, which to everyone’s amusement, is a former insane asylum.

Many iterations of the creature were sketched before finding a Babadook Jen and I were sufficiently disturbed with. Having a character we loved made designing the layout of the pages, heaps of joy. Keeping in mind that the Pop-up book was going to be filmed, the compositions had to support the storytelling. Each page was single-handedly crafted and painted. With the illustrations coming together on one front, the difficult paper engineering was happening simultaneously on another. The pop-up aspect of the book had it’s technical challenge and had to work seamlessly in the context of the story. Subtle movements in the opening pages were chosen, not wanting to distract the audience and over complicating the pop-up elements. However, as the true nature of “The Babadook” emerges, more volumetric pop-up designs were utilized. As these parts of the book were being crafted, I payed special attention to the possible cinematic needs of the director when filming the actual prop. After two and a half months of labor and love poured into this creation, I handed off the hero books destined to make their way onto the big screen.

It was an amazing experience in Australia working beside the most dedicated and passionate people who brought this film to life. It was a dream that someday, somehow, this book would be published. I am delighted to say that this is a reality! Jen and I are teaming up again to put together a finished version of this work of art. Don’t forget to order a copy of your own.”

Have you ever seen the inner-workings of a pop-up book? It's actually quite remarkable. In most cases, a series of intricate folds that can then be manipulated by the reader are what helps bring the art of the story to life. In some cases, the paper engineer who builds the book will use a series of brass hinges and loops that fit together in a way that allows the artwork to bend and swing out in exciting ways. I used to own a whole stacks of pop-up books when I was young, and after reading Alex's blog, I have a whole new appreciation for how much work went into making them.

Now, I trust that those of you who have seen THE BABADOOK are aware that most of the film takes place inside of Amelia and Samuel's home. Meant to feel like a “storybook home”, the set designers paid extra attention to the atmosphere in which the terrible tale takes place. It was decided early on that the interior would be drenched in dark colors – drab blues, aging browns, and black moldings. An uncommon assortment of colors for a family home for sure, and a look that took weeks of painting and staining objects to achieve. Honestly, in taking a walking tour of the house you'd never guess that nearly every stitch of the set was brand-new once filming had begun.

At the time of its release, THE BABADOOK was shown in just 13 cinemas around parts of Australia. Due to the film's limited screenings, it had only grossed a total of $258,000 in its native land. Thankfully, Kent's atmospheric thriller was then picked up for an international release, which brought it's total earning to an estimated $7 million. I'm going to be straight with you, I think this number is woefully unjust. It's true that the film was created using only a budget of $2 million, but that doesn't make up for the fact that horror fans slacked on the opportunity to show their support for this remarkable flick while it was in theaters. Positive word of mouth will only get movies like this so far. In truth, it's your money that will show the powers than be that you desire emotionally-complex and frightful flicks like THE BABADOOK.

I make no bones with admitting to you all that THE BABADOOK is a film that scares the shit out of me. I like slashers, creature features, and body horror just fine, but it's the psychologically malevolent movies that get down into my core. While watching THE BABADOOK, I literally sat in awe of damn near every aspect of it. While experiencing it with a group of my friends, I kept asking, “Is anyone as impressed with this as I am?” The response was a unanimous “Yes, absolutely!” From the very start, the film is positively oozing with a chilling, shadow-soaked atmosphere – due in no small part to the talents of cinematographer Radek Ladczuk.

Furthermore, Kent ceaselessly affixes the camera to present a deceiving perspective to the viewer. As I watched, my eyes relentlessly searched every shade and silhouette in the hope of catching a glimpse of Amelia and Samuel's spectral assailant. Add to that the Oscar-worthy performances of both Davis and Wiseman and a truly unnerving score orchestrated by Jed Kurzel and you have the makings of horror film that will stand the test of time.

Until when next we meet, I bid you each a fond farewell. And let us pray, that your own personal boogeymen doesn't emerge with outstretched fingers, simply dying to drag you all to Hell.

Extra Tidbit: What article about boogeymen would be complete without this classic ditty from White Zombie?

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