Podcast

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It's a Christmas Miracle!

How should I cap off a year of light-posting? By knocking off early, of course! I apologize for the light content and promise that next year will be a very, very cool one that will see lots of big-time pay-off. See you in the new year for my best of the year countdown and much more.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Should a Monsters Ever Meet Its Metaphor?


Are all monsters metaphors? Well, I’ve said before that every fictional story an author tells, even work for hire, is automatically a metaphor for his or her own experiences, so my answer is an always yes. But it usually goes further than that.

Almost every fictional monster is intended by its author to be a walking metaphor for a “real” issue facing the hero/heroine, at least on some subconscious level. Here are some common versions:
  • Ghosts ≈ guilt and/or grief, often in a very specific way.
  • Vampires ≈ repressed sexuality.
  • Manmade monsters ≈ the folly of mankind.
  • Romero-style zombies ≈ societal collapse
  • Slashers ≈ the evils of expressed sexuality
But that “≈” is a problem, isn’t it? Metaphors should never be 1 to 1. On the one hand, we want to tell a story that actually means something, instead of just creating horror for horror’s sake. On the other hand, we don’t want the metaphor to be too obvious or simplistic. We want one that can have a range of implications and interpretations. We want to be able to make complex, nuanced points. The vampires on “Buffy” represented sexuality in general, but every week they’d represent something else specifically.

For most of a horror story, of course, you don’t want the audience to be thinking about the metaphor. You want them to simply accept the monster as it is on the conscious level, even while they unconsciously squirm, semi-aware that this is a “monster” that also exists in their real lives.

The tricky part is the end, when the metaphor and the meaning often meet up, just briefly. You can see this at the end of The Babadook when the monster morphs into Amelia’s dead husband, who invites her to join him in death. It’s a controversial moment, and I think it contributes to the idea that this isn’t a “real” horror film for some.

Some say don’t do this whatsoever, or at least do it more subtly. Certainly one of the all-time great horror endings is Night of the Living Dead, in which the last survivor is a black man who is promptly shot and killed by the authorities when they show up. The cops don’t turn to each other after that and say (as they might on “The Twilight Zone”) “I guess we were the real monsters here,” but you get the point.

But I think somewhat on-the-nose ending of The Babadook works, for many reasons. For one thing, the emotions are so horrific (“I wish you’d died instead of him”) that it doesn’t break the spell to call them out. For another, the supernatural element isn’t waved away at that point: The monster remains a monster right through the epilogue. We get this moment where the subconscious rises to the surface, and then it plunges back down.

Most importantly, I think it works because Mr. Babadook is clearly not a 1 to 1 grief monster. After all, he enters the house as a creepy pop-up book, and we hardly associate those with grief! In fact, for me, even when I “got it” I didn’t fully get it yet. It wasn’t until a few hours after the movie was over that I finally put together the title’s true meaning, for example. ...But now we get back into the realm of unintentional metaphor. Here’s Kent on the name:
  • I was staying with a Serbian writer, and I asked him, “What’s Serbian for ‘Boogeyman?’” He said “Babaroga,” and I didn’t think that sounded right. But I started playing with “Baba,” and then “Babadook” came up, and then it was just rhyming with everything, and it just felt right. But it’s stupid, it’s just a made-up thing.
Did she really never notice that “The Babadook” was really “The Dada Book”? I doubt that, but it’s possible. In the end, it doesn’t really matter: Great horror creators speak from their subconscious to your subconscious, and the meaning that they intend or you construe has little to do with it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Rulebook Casefile: The Progress of the Problem in the Opening of The Babadook

The Babadook also exemplifies three more rules:
By the time the story begins, Sam’s behavior has already gotten pretty bad, and things are quickly getting worse. The first ten minutes feature breathtaking storytelling in every sense of the word: We begin with ten 30-second scenes of Sam’s escalating violence and monster-obsession, then at the 5-minute mark he’s kicked out of school. After ten more 30-second scenes, he pulls the “Mr. Babadook” book off the shelf exactly at 10-minute mark, and the real terror begins.

How on earth does Kent get such a richly-characterized movie to move so fast? How can you say anything with a 30-second scene, and how can you keep up that pace for 20 quick scenes in a row?

The lack of apologies has a lot to do with it. Presumably, after each of Sam’s problematic incidents he apologizes abjectly to his mom or she to others, but the movie has no time for that. It’s tricky, because those scenes are tempting to write: after all, that’s big drama …but it’s empty drama. The audience doesn’t want to watch characters talk about something that’s already happened, they vastly prefer to watch characters discuss things that might happen, or that are happening. What’s done is done.

Here’s what Kent has to say:
  • “Deciding the structure of it, I was always trying to make it more and more constrictive. It’s a matter of rhythm. For me, films have more in common with music than with novels or literature. The flow of this movie was determined by its musicality. We didn’t stop in the edit until it felt that way. We clipped out a lot from the first half until we got there, about 10 minutes, I’d say.”
Getting out of scenes also creates a nice effect near the end, cleverly manipulating our genre expectations. The scene:
  • Once we know that Amelia is over the bend, their kindly old neighbor knocks on the door to make sure they’re okay. We see wild-eyed Amelia trying to send her away. We then cut to Sam discovering their dead dog on the kitchen floor, only to have him turn around to find his murderous mother standing over him, explaining that the neighbor won’t be bothering them anymore.
So did Amelia kill her neighbor? Well, no, but we don’t find that out until the epilogue when the neighbor is babysitting Sam again. Not only is this a great example of the power of cutting away to keep tension high, it helps with the problem we discussed last time: In the end, Amelia kills no humans. This violates our genre expectations, but it’s necessary in order to have a semi-happy ending, so one solution is to cut away from that scene early, implying just for a while that maybe she has killed someone, which makes the rest of her rampage that much scarier.

It’s a brilliant cut: If we figure out that she’s not going to kill anyone, then the movie loses tension, but if we know for certain that she has killed someone, then we lose all hope of a happy ending, which also decreases tension (our tense hopes that this might still turn out okay).  By cutting away, both sources of tension are kept alive.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Straying from the Party Line: The Babadook vs. Genre Expectations

There is no genre that has a more tortured relationship to its own conventions than horror. The burdensome pile up of rules and tropes has gotten so thick that there’s a whole subgenre of movies about those rules and tropes (Scream, Cabin in the Woods, etc.)

Even horror moves that aren’t about the rules wind up being about the rules: It Follows was a movie that tried to start fresh, but I felt that it was so concerned with rejecting conventions that it became merely a commentary on those conventions, and failed to work on its own. The filmmakers gave interviews in which they basically said, “Yes, we have flat characters, but we’re subverting that trope, don’t you see?” Thanks, but I’d rather just have compelling characters.

Would-be horror directors now seem to have three choices:
  • Dutifully check off the all the boxes to please the basic horror fans.
  • Flatter the smarter fans by acknowledging and then subverting those tropes and expectations.
  • Piss all the the fans off by making a movie that doesn’t count as a “real” horror movie (all the while knowing that you might have a hard time finding non-horror fans, who tend to reject anything that has horror elements.)
From her interviews, it’s clear that Jennifer Kent feels the burden of these expectations and the stigma of the genre:
  • “There’s a snobbery around ‘genre films’ being perceived in a certain way. That’s why I shy away from using the term ‘horror,’ because it can be a reductive term. I think people expect, ‘Oh, I made this horror film, so now I can make a serious film,’ but for me this is a serious film.”
So why make it horror?
  • “Can you imagine this story as a domestic drama? It would be so melodramatic and stupid. I like films where I’m forced to feel something”
Sometime when female directors make horror, they make sure that they’ll be allowed into the boys’ club by amping up the violence and gruesomeness, but not Kent. She doesn’t shy away from the notion that this is a “women’s” horror movie, not only because it’s about motherhood, but because, amazingly, it has no (human) deaths!

Can you have horror without onscreen deaths? That’s a pretty huge genre convention to ignore...and yet this could not be more of a horror movie! First and foremost, it’s just really goddamn scary. Even when you become pretty sure that neither the mother nor son will die, the mere notion of a mother trying to kill her son (and a son fighting back) is sufficiently horrific. Beyond that, the monster is terrifying, the jump scares are effective, and the atmosphere is tremendously creepy.

And it’s interesting to note all of the genre tropes/clichés that the movie does include, without any attempt to subvert them:
  • Going to the police and being ridiculed as crazy
  • Hallucinating swarms of roaches, even though that has little relationship to the main story
  • Cutting the phone cord
  • Her dog growling at her when she’s possessed
  • Lights flickering in the house
  • Just when you think the monster’s dead, it’s not!
As I’ve said before, some things become clichéd for good reasons. For instance, it would be too unbelievable if she never went to the cops, and yet that avenue must be closed off immediately, and it’s certainly understandable that they wouldn’t believe her.

This movie is the ultimate confirmation of the rule that you must embrace two conventions for every one you reject, but you must not embrace all of them. Just don’t fall into the trap of subverting them just to prove that you’re too cool for school. You’ll please the clever fans, but you can’t tell a great story that way.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Straying from the Party Line: The Selfless and Self-Less Heroine of The Babadook

Is there ever a good reason for a character to have generic dialogue? Yes, The Babadook is one movie that gets away with it.

In my definition of metaphor family, I say that it’s drawn from the hero’s job, background, or developmental state, so I guess that this could include the simple job of “single mom”, but ideally we want something more. The heroine here has fairly generic mom dialogue:
  • “I don’t want you making weapons anymore. This monster thing has got to stop.”
  • “No, it’s all right, I’m fine.”
  • “No worries, I’ll make you another one.”
  • “I’m going to have a serious talk with him. What he needs is some understanding.”
  • “I don’t want you to feel awful, we’ll be fine, we’ll be absolutely fine.”
So that’s bad, right? Well, not necessarily. Once again, let’s go to an interview with writer/director Jennifer Kent:
  • Amelia is being a “very good girl” in the beginning. She’s had these terrible things happen and people are trying to help her out, but she’s like, “I’m fine, I’m fine. I’ll do something for you.” And that’s a typically altruistic feminine trait, and I think it has massive negative repercussions. You get the suppression, and then underneath the nice girl is this monster that’s waiting to explode. [Laughs.] Beware of the woman who’s too nice!
So Amelia’s lack of personality is central to her flaw, and to the movie’s commentary on the wider world. Of course, we don’t know that yet as we watch it, so Kent had to do everything she could to keep Amelia from bugging us too much in that first half-hour. Here’s what she did:
  • [Early] readers feared that Amelia would be cold or unfeeling or unsympathetic, but this was someone I cared so much about, so I wanted an actress that would have the capacity to give the character warmth. Essie uses her heart when she acts.
In other words, Kent knew from her note-givers that the lack of specificity and humanity on the part of the character would make her hard to identify with at first, so she knew that she’d have to find an extraordinary actress that could provide the heart and soul the character seemed to lack. If you’re going to break a rule, you have to know the danger you’re putting yourself in and have a plan for overcoming it.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Rulebook Casefile: Jennifer Kent vs. the Naysayers

For the upcoming pieces on The Babadook, I’ll be relying heavily on the great interviews that Jennifer Kent has done to promote this movie, because she talks about herself and her art more perceptively and more honestly than just about any of the other writer/directors whose work we’ve looked at.

It’s interesting to look at her statements about the development of the movie, because they exemplify one of the dangers I singled out in two posts a long time ago. On the one hand she talks a lot about protecting and purifying her individual vision:
  • Of producer Kristina Ceyton: “She’s really protected this film. It’s been able to stay pure from the get-go because of her.”
  • Of mentor Lars Von Trier: “The biggest thing I learned from him was courage. He’s stubborn, and he does what he wants. I needed to see those things up close.”
  • Of her script development lab: “They are an extraordinary bunch of people because they really wanted to find out what your vision was first, and then they helped you develop the film and got on board script advisors that were suited to the vision that you had, and that for me has given this a strong base.”
  • About the ending: “We had many people fight the ending. I had to really defend that ending.”
This sort of talk is catnip to both fans and potential creators. Fans love it because it convinces them that they’re not watching some work-shopped product, but rather an unadulterated vision that flowed right from God’s brain into their eyes. Aspiring creators love this talk even more because it feeds our suspicion that we don’t need notes after all: Don’t adulterate our vision, man!

But rather than get seduced, it’s always important to keep your head on your shoulders. Wait just a second, what’s that other thing she mentioned in passing in one of those interviews?
  • I had been working on a number of film scripts, and they were just too out-there. Screen Australia supported me up to a point, but they thought these scripts were too ambitious financially. So I realized I needed to look at an idea that was contained and more intimate.
So she did listen to the naysayers, up until a point. At what point do you say, “Okay, this is it, all of these notes have been great, but at this point I have to declare it done and start defending what I have”? Kent picked just the right moment. She let herself be talked out of all of those too-out-there scripts and found something instead that was contained and intimate, but then, once she was fairly certain that she had finally nailed it, she started digging in her heels and fighting for her vision.

The problem of course is that most aspiring writers start fighting too soon. We fight to defend the “purity” of those too-out-there ideas, because we think that that’s what writers do. We pay attention to those first four quotes from Kent, and skip right over that last one. Knowing when to take your stand is one of the hardest calls in life.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Ultimate Story Checklist: The Babadook

Seven years ago, Amelia’s husband died in an accident while racing her to the hospital to have her son Samuel. Now Samuel is violent and obsessed with killing monsters, testing the patience of his teachers and Amelia’s only support: her sister Claire. Sam finds a mysterious pop-up book on his shelf about an invasive creature named Mr. Babadook, and his night terrors increase, keeping Amelia awake until she snaps. She is invaded by the Babadook and tries to kill Sam, but he drives it out of her. She finally banishes it by admitting her grief and forgiving her son. She confines the monster to the basement, feeding it but keeping it chained up.
PART #1: CONCEPT 21/21
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 A mother and son are stalked by a creature that emerges from a creepy picture book.
Is this a new twist on a classic type of story?
The haunted house / demonic possession movie.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
A son must fear his mother.  A hunt for external monsters leads to the discover of an internal monster.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
Yes, every parent has resented their children, and vice versa.  Everyone has repressed their emotions until they become dangerous.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
Yes.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Yes and no.  Our identification shifts, but one could argue that Amelia remains the “hero”, because we’re still rooting for her to get over it once she’s possessed, and not for Samuel to defeat her. 
Is the story about the hero’s problem, not the hero’s life? 
Yes.  The first half-hour is a beautiful model of lightspeed filmmaking, following the progress of the problem over a long period of time in a rapid-fire way. (Kent says they cut ten minutes out of this section.)
Is it about a unique relationship?
Yes, a mother and son who each think the other is a monster.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
Yes, first the sister, then Samuel.  Also the child services people.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
Greatest fear: her feelings of grief must be confronted, her bad mothering gets out of control.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
Very much so.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
She’s unable to even say her husband’s name, nor to hear anyone else say it.
Is the hero the person working the hardest to solve the problem?
Yes, even when she is the problem.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
Yes.  The son does what he can, but then its up to her.
Does the hero permanently transform the situation?
Yes.
Does the situation permanently transform the hero?
Yes.
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
The picture book.
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
The scary book, trying to kill her kid, killing the dog.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
She becomes the villain, and the Babadook is essentially the father’s “join me in death” ghost.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Yes.
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
Yes.
PART #2: CHARACTER 20/23
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
Her loving-but-bemused smile when she opens the closet and looks under the bed to show him that there’s no monster. 
Is the hero defined by actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
Yes and no.  Backstory looms large, but only because it is totally unprocessed and therefore totally present.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
The widowed young mom of a troubled kid.
Does that ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
She has a potential for violence, repressed sexuality.
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
No, she just has generic mom dialogue: “I don’t want you making weapons anymore.  This monster thing has got to stop.”  “No, it’s all right, I’m fine.” “No worries, I’ll make you another one.” “Get to work, woman.” “I’m going to have a serious talk with him.”  “What he needs is some understanding.”  “I think I’ll just find another school, that seems my son as a human being, not just another problem to be gotten rid of.”  “I don’t want you to feel awful, Claire, we’ll be fine, we’ll be absolutely fine.” Kent talks about this, and we will too, next week.
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
Brittle
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
Meekly assents, then lashes out.
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, not-selfless, and revealed early on?
Yes, save her son and herself.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a false philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
”I’m fine.”  There’s no monster.  “He doesn’t need a monitor.”  “I have moved on, I never mention him.”
Does the hero have a false or short-sighted goal when we first meet him or her?
Convince her son that there’s no monster.
Does the hero have an open anxiety about his or her future?
She’s worried about her son’s fears, inability to sleep.
Does the hero also have a hidden, private fear?
She fears his violent tendencies, fears that she will hurt him, perhaps even fears that she will molest him, as he has taken her husband’s place in her bed, and she shuns his hugs and physical contact in bed.
Is the hero vulnerable, both physically and emotionally?
Yes.
Does the hero have an untenable great flaw that we empathize with? (but…)
Denial of grief, resentment of her son.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw the natural flip-side of a great strength that we admire?
Perseverance.  The resentment comes out of intense love that he cannot fully return (and vice versa)
Is the hero curious?
Yes and no.  She never makes much attempt to figure out where the book came from.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
Not really.  Samuel is, though.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
I can handle it, don’t tell me how to raise my son, look forward.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
Nobody else understands or loves her son.  (Although she also fails at both to a certain extent.)
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
Very directly.
Is the hero actively pursuing an early goal when we first meet him or her?
She’s trying to sleep.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
Yes.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
Amelie tries and fails (using the same type of medications she uses at work) Samuel tries  and succeeds: He’s been preparing for this fight for a while, builds his own machines.  He’s been practicing magic, which teaches him how to palm the pill.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 23/24
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
Everyone is losing patience with her son (including her) but she’s in denial as to the true flaw: he inability to grieve or forgive him for her husband’s death.
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
Her son is sent home from school for bringing a weapon.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
No, she knows she must do something, but sees no opportunity to do anything.   In retrospect, the book is the (very roundabout) opportunity to fix her problem, but she can’t see it that way, understandably enough (not can we, until the very end.)
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
She hesitates forever. 
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
It’s late, but by a third of the way through, (32 minutes) she has a plan: Use sedatives until tests come back and a state-appointed psychiatrist can come.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
The doctor is dubious of her plan, child services is suspicious, Claire cuts her out entirely.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
She relies on the sedatives.
Does the hero (and/or villain) get to have a little fun at this point, in a way that exemplifies the appeal of the concept?
We get traditional horror movie things: the book shows back up, scary phone calls.  The Babadook is toying with his prey.
Does the hero get excited about the possibility of success?
She loves the sedatives, feels better briefly.
Does this culminate in a midpoint disaster?
The babadook enters her.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero lose a safe space and/or sheltering relationship at this point?
Her house and only relationship (with her son) are no longer safe.
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
She brings her husband’s violin back upstairs. She’s starting to deal with his memory.
By halfway through, are character decisions driving the plot, rather than external plot complications?
Yes and no.  In horror the two are hard to tell apart. 
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
Claire cuts her off and the man stops coming around, but the next door neighbor turns out to be reliable, and Samuel turns out to the one who can save her …by stabbing her, knocking her out and tying her down.
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
Stakes are now life or death, etc.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
Yes, she realizes that the only way to save her son is to face her grief.
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
Ditto.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
To her husband’s ghost: “You’re trespassing in my house.”
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
Yes, although it’s not really far away.  When she confronts it strongly, it retreats to the basement.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
Well, it would be the final quarter if the final act weren’t so short.  That’s a problem with “it’s all in your head” stories: a corrected philosophy basically solves the problem.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
It grabs Sam and she has to chase it. 
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
Yes.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
The same moment.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
It’s half-resolved/half-succumbed-to.  It’s interesting that some behaviors are reversed (She talks about her husband and lets others do so) but some aren’t, (the basement is still verboten, Sam is still violent)
PART #4: SCENEWORK 21/23 (She chases Sam down to the basement, where he knocks her out, ties her up, and drives the Babadook out of her, temporarily)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
They’re in the midst of trying to kill each other.  We’ve seen her kill him in the book just after she kills the dog, so we know what’s next.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
It jumps ahead from when he knocks her out to when she’s tied up. 
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
Very much so: it’s the basement where they keep the dad’s stuff, and he’s got it filled with weapons. 
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
She just wants to kill him, not to talk. 
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
Not by this point.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
Will he talk her out of killing him before she can break the ropes?
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character?
Very much so.
Are one or more characters in the scene emotionally affected by this interaction or action as the scene progresses?
Very much so.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
We’re entirely on his side
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
Very much so.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
Surface: Can I exorcise this demon? Suppressed: Do you love me?  Should you love someone with mental illness?  Can they love you properly?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
The monster = mental illness = unacknowledged grief = the dad = many other things.  “I know you don’t love me anymore, because the Babadook won’t let you.”
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
He seems to be totally open at this point, but we suspect that even here he’s masking his emotions somewhat to get what he wants.  “I won’t leave you.  You said we’d protect each other.” She refuses to speak.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
He uses literal physical traps.  She feigns stillness to draw him near.  He appeals to her emotions, uses reverse psychology.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
Lots.  She tries to choke him to death.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
Her exorcism takes the form of black bile she vomits out. 
If this is a big scene, is it broken down into a series of mini-goals?
First: knock her out, then win her over.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
She stops herself from killing him because of what he says.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
He drives the monster out of her but then it enters him. 
Are previously-asked questions answered?
What is he building in the basement?  Will she kill him?
Are new questions posed that will be left unanswered for now?
Is the Babadook gone? 
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
We briefly have a growing hope.
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
No, it goes to the end. 
PART #5: DIALOGUE 18/19
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Yes.
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
Yes.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
Yes, this is a movie about the myth of selflessness.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
Very much so.  Even Sam, who seems to say anything that pops into his head, is coy about his growing knowledge that his mother is the monster.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say?
That’s what the whole movie’s about.
Do the characters listen poorly?
Yes.  Actress Essie Davis has a great “not really listening” face.
Do the characters interrupt each other more often than not?
Yes.
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon of the profession and/or setting?
Yes for nursing, child psychology, mothering
Does the dialogue capture the tradecraft of the profession being portrayed?
We see lots of authentic mothering tricks.
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families (different from the hero’s, even if they’re in the same profession)?
No, this is a movie with fairly generic dialogue (partially because Kent wanted to de-emphasize its country of origin.)
Are there additional characters with default personality traits?
Sam: intense, Claire: snobby, Robbie: genial, Mrs. Roach: compassionate
Are there additional characters with default argument strategies?
 Sam: screams the truth as he sees it, Claire: insinuates, Robbie: cajoles, Mrs. Roach: makes tentative suggestions
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Yes.
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Not really.  This is more of a muted “everyman” horror movie. 
Is there a minimum of commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Yes.
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
Yes.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
Everyone is three-dimensional
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
Yes.  They know everything but it takes us a while to catch on.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
Yes, the finale. “You don’t know how many times I wish it was you, not him, that died.”
PART #6: TONE 14/16
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning, without introducing a new genre after the first quarter?)
Horror/drama
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
Possession/grief
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre and sub-genre?
Yes and no.  It’s very scary, but there are no deaths!  There is very little sexuality or transgression to be punished.  
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)? 
Very much so.  The Babadook = The Dada Book.
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
The monster is both defeated and not, but nobody dies.
Mood: Does the story create a certain feeling?
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
Chilly, haunted
Are the physics of the world (realistic or stylized?) established early and maintained throughout?
The physics are somewhat stylized, and this is established early on when Sam is successfully making his own weapons in the basement, which a kid probably wouldn’t be able to do.  Also when Sam seems to fall from a great height, but it only affects him emotionally: this is a movie in which the outer hurts are mostly just metaphors for inner hurts.
Is the nature of the stakes (lethal, social, psychological and/or spiritual?) established early and maintained throughout?
Psychological and spiritual: We begin to suspect fairly early on that no one will die, even though that totally goes against the rules of horror.   Worthwhile friends and social position are already long gone for both.  (We don’t expect guests at his birthday party in order to have a happy ending.)
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Are open questions posed in the first half, which will keep the audience from asking the wrong questions later on?
We are conditioned to ask “Will the Babadook get out?”, not “Who gave them the book?”  The news stories she hallucinates in which she has killed her child establish the real danger.
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
Can they make it until the psychiatrist comes?
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
The opening nightmare. The events of the book predict the events onscreen.   The events on TV comment on the rest of the story.
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
The dog for the boy, etc.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
Very much so.  The foreshadowing is the same as the framing devices, in this case.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
The idea of not celebrating his birthday on the day pays off well, etc.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
She finally speaks of her husband and allows others to do so, the boy finally gets to celebrate his birthday, etc.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
No!  We never find out if the psychiatrist arrived, but now we sense that they don’t need him or her anymore. 
PART 7: THEME 12/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
Grieving vs. looking forward, fighting bad feelings vs. accepting them.
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
Is it better to discuss a boy’s dead dad with him or not?
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
Sedate your child that can’t sleep?  Take your child’s side in a violent incident?
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
Yes.  There are no forgiven murders.  The authorities notice when he doesn’t go to school. 
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
Yes and no.  Kent didn’t want to tell an Australian story, preferring (for economic reasons) to tell a story that could happen in any American or Western European rural suburb.  That said, the portrayal of generic rural suburban life is well-observed. 
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
No, for the same reasons.  This is a story that would be little different in another country, or indeed even five hundred years ago.
Are these issues addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
NA
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
Yes and no.  It is not unbelievable that she suffered no real consequences for killing her dog or even for almost killing her kid (and vice versa) but it’s a little weird.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
Her resistance to celebrate her son’s birthday on the day, the neighbor accepts her own Parkinson’s, etc.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
The book, the crossbow, the suits, the photos, the phone, many others.
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimate irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards on one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
Very much so.  Grief must be nurtured but controlled. 
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
Yes, she’s the monster at the end of the book.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
Very much so.  The ending is very tantalizing and bizarre.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
Yes.  Her reversible behavior is very subtle. 

Final Score: 129 out of 140!
Much will be discussed!