Writer/Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Hayley McElhinney
It’s rare these days when you come across an actual scary movie. Many movies are released each year that fit into the “horror genre”, but for every one movie that’s decent, you get about five or six that are pure crap. The Babadook was not only one of the best films of 2014, but frankly, one of the best horror films released within the last decade. Samuel (Wiseman) is a rambunctious little kid who believes in monsters. He’s made toys and weapons in order to kill them. His mom Amelia (Davis) seems exhausted by how much energy he has at any given moment. She’s a single mother whose husband died while driving her to the hospital to deliver Samuel. She works at a nursing home and is told by his school that he has severe behavioral problems.
They have a nighttime ritual of checking the closets and underneath the bed and reading a bedtime story. He finds a new book on the shelf called “Mister Babadook, which is a rhyming pop-up book. As they go through it, they realize it’s dark and sinister which leads Samuel into a screaming fit. “You’re going to wish you were dead” are the last few words before a set of blank pages. When spooky occurrences start to happen, Samuel blames the Babadook. Amelia finds the book in his room and rips the pages thinking that will destroy it and stop the madness. This separation only lasts a few days until the book arrives on her doorstop reassembled with new pages added to it threating her and Samuel’s life.
I am a big fan of 1970s era horror films. The characters seemed real, the stories were complex, and they were crafted to sheer perfection. The Babadook feels reminiscent of films like The Exorcist and The Omen. All three center on children’s lives in peril with grieving parents just trying to get to the bottom of what’s wrong with their child. Australian born writer/director Jennifer Kent is making her directorial debut with The Babadook, which is a full-length feature based of her short film “Monster.” She uses that innocent concept of a child believing there are monsters under the bed and amplifies it even further. Samuel is so sweet in one moment and then is filled with rage and terror in the next. Even before the Babadook arrives, there is something disturbing about him. His screaming matches are heartbreaking, and you feel so much sympathy for Amelia. You know she’s doing the best she can, but she is at the end of her ropes.
Kent starts out with Samuel being the focus as he battles behavioral issues, but once the Babadook makes his presence known the story shifts into Amelia’s descent into madness. The film plays on the psychological fears we have when we are lacking all control in our lives and how we alter our minds into believing what we think we see and hear. Amelia turns normal everyday items and imagines them to be related to the Babadook. Amelia starts off trying to be the grounded one in order to do what’s best for Samuel, but in the end there’s a bit of a role reversal as its up to Samuel to try to protect his mother.
The Babadook offers up some true scares for its audience, and that’s coming from someone that has remained pretty numb to the genre in the last few years. It amps up the sound design in order to play off the mysterious sounds we think we hear in the middle of the night. The overall mood is dark and gloomy without a ray of sunshine popping in. Even during a child’s birthday party scene, it may be a sunny day but the supporting mother characters and children are rude and nasty to Amelia and Samuel. The venom spewed from the other children pushes Samuel to the edge. The lighting is another big component on how Kent achieves the scares. She and cinematographer Radek Ladczuk make good use out of the darkness and shadow effects to create that lurking sensation. Kent has stated being inspired by Roman Polanski, and this use of shadows and some fast zooms feel inspired by his film Repulsion from 1965. The actual look and design of the Babadook is creepy. His presence feels of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu. They both have the slow demeanor, black coat, and long fingers.
If you want a good scare this Halloween, watch The Babadook. It’s currently available through Netflix Streaming. It’s even better if you can watch it with surround sound in an extremely dark room with little to no light coming in. I watched it again recently and was spooked all over again. As Amelia and Samuel, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman give outstanding performances. It can’t be easy to go to these dark places, especially when you’re a little kid. He makes some truly creepy faces along the way. This is the perfect kind of horror film for anyone that gets bored by bimbos and jocks running around screaming their faces off. There are no dumb characters here. Nor will you find found footage, dolls, masks, or the claim that it’s “based on real events.”
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? It’s a monster flick that’s psychologically scary, heartbreaking, and will make you jump.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS