Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Noah Wiseman
The blurb says: Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her ‘out of control’ 6 year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called ‘The Babadook’ turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he’s been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son’s behaviour, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.
The verdict: Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is an effective, sinister and haunting affair. To call it a horror film sells it somewhat short, as it is far more complex than that particular genre tag would suggest, ‘horror’ having come to be synonymous with gore and cheap scares. The Babadook is instead a complex psychological horror/thriller, which takes a hard look at some issues surrounding family life which are still very much taboo. As has been suggested elsewhere, The Babadook would make an excellent double-bill with We Need to Talk About Kevin, another film tackling the issue of mothers struggling to love their children.
Essie Davis is stunning in the role of the unravelling Amelia, taking us on her journey from calm nurse and seemingly doting mother to emotionally ravished, broken shell and then to ferocious Momma Bear. Noah Wiseman is brilliant as Samuel too, managing to make him both deeply irritating but still sympathetic and endearing. While we can see the issues his mother has with him we can also see why he is acting as he is, giving us an insight she seems not to have. An honourable mention needs to also go to Hachi the dog, who does an excellent job as family hound Bugsey, because excellent dog-acting needs recognition too.
What makes The Babadook truly compelling is the human story aside from the monster. It is a tale of grief, loss, anger and broken families, one we can all relate to. The monster itself is brilliantly realised however, with some fantastic stop-motion animation giving him a particularly creepy quality CGI just couldn’t have matched. The ‘less is more’ approach to showing him also works brilliantly, with the audience left to fill in some blanks ourselves, making him far more terrifying thanks to our own imaginations.
The Babadook never takes the obvious route and Kent is clearly well-versed in the world of psychological horror, with nods to expressionist film making, with references to Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, alongside the tone of Roman Polanski with a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure.
The Babadook is a chilling, intelligent, psychological-horror that will terrify parents and non-parents alike. It will certainly haunt me for some time to come.
9 out of 10
You can see Kent’s short film ‘Monster’ on which The Babadook was based here (excuse the Thai subtitles, I couldn’t find a non-subbed copy)