Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK.

Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK.

The Babadook (2014) – Jennifer Kent’s movie uses subjectivity brilliantly. It begins with Essie Davis floating in a blank, dream space, broken glass drifting past her like diamonds, and it never settles into a stable relationship with reality. At first our sympathies are all with Davis’ embattled mum, alone with a disturbed child (Noah Wiseman) who acts out violently one moment and clamours for her attention the next. He seems almost demonic, and as he screams and screams there’s nothing she can do to pacify him. The people around them – teachers, Davis’ sister, a supervisor at work – seem like unhelpful caricatures, but as Davis becomes increasingly disturbed, we realise that her perceptions may well be distortions. Suddenly, we fear for the boy more than the mother, while staying inside her point of view, inhabiting her madness. The movie may banalise the monster by relating it so explicitly to Davis’ bereavement – it’s too pat an explanation – but Kent denies us the out of believing it’s all in her mind, or even that it can be destroyed. ****

The Shining (1980) – The triumph of mood over indifferent storytelling. The people make little sense: Jack Nicholson’s facial tics are already so alarming in his job interview that there’s no way management would entrust him with the hotel over winter (especially given its history); the lack of any sane starting place makes his performance a little monotonous. But it’s fascinating how Stanley Kubrick turns the Gothic genre on its head: the supernatural occurrences are fuelled not by female hysteria (or even the boy’s psychic ability) but a frustrated male’s sense of entitlement. The rhythms are so beguiling that you begin to understand Jack’s fascination with the place: the silence around the dialogue, so that the conversations seem to take place outside of time; the camera’s stately movement through kitchens and corridors; the apparition in the bathtub inexorably drawing back its curtain. It seems right that the climax should take place in a maze: Kubrick’s movie is likewise a reverie that turns in on itself. ***

Starship Troopers (1997) – The riotously crass recruitment videos that open the movie suggest a satirical take on militarism that isn’t followed through: it rapidly becomes a story of glad submission to military discipline, and gun-toting heroism. That is, unless presenting the story entirely from the perspective of teenagers brainwashed by that culture isn’t the sharpest satirical cut of all: the joke is on us too in the audience for how readily we accept the same lies. It’s a slippery film, one moment depicting the army as a utopia where men and women shower together as equals, without sexual tension, dressing its officers in Nazi black the next, and mostly, director Paul Verhoeven succeeds in having it both ways. Despite the exploitative vibe, it’s strikingly good on the gender front: many space adventures could learn from its wide range of female characters, all with separate paths through the action. It is also (and hence its inclusion here) an excellent monster movie: the aliens are all sharp edges, all the better to pierce and slice through human flesh. ***

Videodrome (1983) – This is a period piece in a way David Cronenberg couldn’t have anticipated: it depends for its effects on the materiality of videocassettes, which pucker and boil like a nightmare of flesh. (The streaming culture we now inhabit expressly eliminates the physical: images are abstract transmissions.) Cronenberg doesn’t condescend to the sleazy TV environment: one of the movie’s pleasures is its dead-on reproduction of TV talk shows, ‘exotic’ soft-core porn and corporate floorshows. James Woods is the perfect emblem for this world, with his pockmarked face – handsome one moment and seedy the next – and his scenes with Deborah Harry anticipate the full-blown queasy romanticism of The Fly. Cronenberg’s draggy style – so uninflected that it can seem null when he tackles other genres – is perfect here: the horrors linger, all the more effective for being seen so steadily. ****