The Babadook (Kent, 2014)

The Babadook

Amelia is having a nightmare, and first time director Jennifer Kent begins her psychological horror film, The Babadook, by placing the viewer in the middle of it. The film’s first shot is a close-up of Amelia breathing in a distressed rhythm, as if in labor. A few seconds later, a shrill scream accompanies breaking glass as shards scrape against the side of her face. Suddenly, with the camera shot still zoomed on Amelia’s frightened expression, it’s as if she is—we are— in a car that has gone out of control. The sense of being in a mid-air rotation is overlaid with brooding sounds of slow-motion machinery and yelling, mixed together like a slow-motion, nightmare rollercoaster.

There’s also a boy’s voice repeatedly calling for “Mom,” as if to get her attention. The car that she’s presumably riding in comes to a stop, Amelia looks to her right, and, for the first time, we look away from her distressed gaze to see what she sees: A man, perhaps a loved one, who looks like he’s breathing his last. Amelia finally awakes from her nightmare. The boy who’s been yelling for Mom—her son, Sam—is beside her bed. And so with Amelia we too... Read More

Something, Anything (Harrill, 2014)

This debut feature from Paul Harrill has been getting a lot of press. Jeffrey Overstreet mentioned it in his Top Ten for 2014. Justin Chang wrote it up for Variety. Christianity Today posted an interview with Harrill. The NY Times featured it last week as a Critic’s Pick. And Darren Hughes hosted an insightful interview at Mubi months ago, which touches on the film as a story about a seeker, someone passing through a familiar culture on the... Read More

Selma (DuVernay, 2014)

    There is a series of shots in Selma that called to mind a passage from Perez’s The Material Ghost. In this section, Perez is talking about the shot reverse shot convention. “The shot/reverse shot does not give us a bystander’s view: it has us stand in turn where each character stands.That people engaged in conversation will face each other, that they will speak and listen in turn, does not adequately account for... Read More

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Takahata, 2014)

I watched this quiet miracle of a film recently with my daughter. We have been taking painting lessons together, learning how to blend color, the tonal habits of different brushes, and little techniques artists use to paint things like clouds or shrubs. This made the film a real pleasure for us both, as Takahata’s animation is simple and bold. We could see his choices so clearly – a brush of green here, a wash of blue into a hedge of... Read More