Case Study 3 – The Babadook

The Babadook is a 2014 Australian horror film written by Jennifer Kent, and is her first film.  It is the story of a mother and son who are haunted by an evil entity called the babadook.  The film is chilling in its soundtrack and features a style of sound design that I have not seen before in a horror film.

In the opening scene we immediately can tell something is not right as we see a woman breathing heavily, yet we do not hear her breathing.  Instead we hear the screeches of train tracks and brakes.  We can tell that because of this it is not the norm, and it is clear that the woman is in a nightmare.  In the dream we then hear her son saying her name and it has been very heavily effected by a low pass filter which gets louder and clearer as she is waking up to reflect the transition between her dream and real life.

On the first night when the son first asks to be read the book, mister babadook, is when we first hear the sound design theme which personifies the babadook.  As they are reading the book, there is a sound which volume rises the nearer the end of the book they get.  The sound sounds like a mixture of a bike wheel getting spun and bugs chirping.  There is a point halfway through reading the book where the mother closes the book, and the noise stops.  The noise is reintroduced as she begins to read it again.  This hard cut of noises is also reintroduced a couple of scenes later as when the mother puts the ripped up book in the bin, the noise is immediately cut out as soon as she closes the lid, just like when she closed the book the first time.  Later in the film the book comes back to the house, and then the sound is reintroduced again and swells to an uncomfortable level and makes the watcher feel very uneasy.  The mother this time burns the book instead, the sound this time fades out quickly with the fire engulfing it, as opposed to the hard cut we hear before, it reflects the on screen visuals more accurately this way as we can still see it as it burns compared to the first time in the bin where is disappears completely from sight.

The babadook’s voice in the film is created very well.  We first hear it in the scene after she burns the book, on the phone.  The voice is breathy and sounds almost like an inhalation rather than an exhale of voice.

The scene where the babadook first visits in the night creates real intensity, we first hear a scratching at the door which puts us on the edge of our seats immediately, but we then hear a barking and realise it is just the family dog trying to get into the bedroom, but once the dog is in the room, we hear exactly the same extended scratching noises at the door.  Once the door opens we hear the entrance of the bug like, bike wheel whirring that represents the babadook, letting the audience know that the babadook is present.  We then hear the scuttling on the roof and the whirring appears to get faster and louder until the babadook attacks.

We hear the babadook sounds in the scene as the mother is driving around and it takes over her consciousness.  The sound at this point is accompanied by cockroaches crawling on the mothers clothes.  And again it gets louder as the scene comes to its conclusion which is two cars crashing.

The film was very effective in making the watcher feel tension as it was done mostly through sound design rather than gimicky jumpscares.  The film has a bad ending, but until the final couple of scenes the film is a spectacle in modern psychological horror.

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