THE BABADOOK-Australia-93 Mins. 2014
Essie Davis as Amelia in The Babadook
Noah Wiseman as Samuel in The Babadook
Hayley McElhinney (L) as Claire in The Babadook
Daniel Henshall as Robbie in The Babadook
Barbara West as Mrs. Roach in The Babadook
Also starring Ben Winspear
Directed and Written by Jennifer Kent
The Babadook is not what I expected and I am abundantly grateful for this. I expected a film about a storybook monster that comes to life and terrorizes a mother and her child and it would include jump scare after jump scare because by now most of us have been conditioned to suckle on that teat. I was half right; The Babadook is about a storybook monster that comes to life and terrorizes a mother and her child. Except that there are no jump scares to be found in this movie. The Babadook scares us the old-fashioned way by building up and playing on our fears rather than by shoving the frights down our throats. Essie Davis gives a startling performance as Amelia. Director Jennifer Kent plays on our childhood fears to scare the hell out of us and in doing so has given us one of the finest films of psychological horror that has been produced in quite some time.
The Babadook begins with Essie being shaken, glass breaking and flying into her vision as she looks to her husband for comfort. Her husband is and has been dead for six years but we don’t know this from the opening scene. We learn from Samuel that his father died in a car accident while rushing Amelia to the hospital when she went into labor with him. Samuel has a tendency to allow whatever pops into his mind to emerge from his mouth. It’s certainly not his only personality flaw; Samuel is a child who has a deep-seated fear of monsters and who never seems to stop moving, talking, screaming much to the stress of Amelia, his exhausted and exasperated mother. By the time she reads the storybook that unleashes the Babadook upon them she is already a defeated woman. What makes The Babadook scary is that we continually feel afraid for Samuel and Amelia and as the Babadook grows in power so does that fear; so subtle yet we feel as if we’ve been slammed by a locomotive. However, as much as we fear for mother and child there is that nagging question: is the Babadook real or the manifestation of a mother at her wits end over a child that she finds difficult to care for, much less love? I have my own opinions but would rather not share. I would rather you experience The Babadook for yourself.
The highest praise that I can give The Babadook is not in a vocabulary of hyperbole. I compare this movie to the works of author Ramsey Campbell. Campbell’s books (such as The Nameless, The Influence and The Doll Who Ate His Mother) and short stories at first seem slow and tedious until we begin to let the words sink in and he sets our minds reeling and chills cascade down our spines. After years of horror films that are nothing but cerebral bludgeoning The Babadook and its quiet horror are nirvana to this reviewer.
Of the film’s modest budget, $30,071 was raised via Kickstarter. Most of the funds raised from Kickstarter were channelled toward the art department.
Essie Davis also appears in The Matrix Revolutions and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole.
Noah Wiseman makes his feature film debut in The Babadook.
Hayley McElhinney also appears in My Mother Frank and Inhuman Resources.
Daniel Henshall also appears in The Snowtown Murders and These Final Hours.
Barbara West makes her feature film debut in The Babadook.
Ben Winspear also appears in The Last Goodbye.