Synopsis: A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Stars: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman,Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Ben Winspear
Director: Jennifer Kent
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: I’d like to let you in on a little secret the marketing team for The Babadook probably doesn’t want you to know: it’s not an Insidious/Sinister/The Conjuring-like scare fest that derives its shocks and jolts from loud music stings and icky ghouls that peek out from under the bed.
That’s not to say The Babadook doesn’t have a treasure trove worth of frights at the ready for audiences but to truly feel the effect of director Jennifer Kent’s slow burn horror film you need to be patient, listen, and invest yourself in the characters and situations presented to you.
Drawing parallels between unexpressed grief and horror manifested as a boogey-man type specter, Kent’s tale unspools at its own pace, thankfully taking the time to introduce us to the mother and son that are haunted by a malevolent force inside their creaky old manse. Still grieving the loss of her husband killed the day their son was born, Amelia (Essie Davis) is barely keeping it together between her demanding job as a caregiver and fulfilling her motherly duties to her troubled son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman).
Plagued by night terrors, Samuel acts out at school and when he’s removed from class it’s not long before mother and son find themselves cooped up in their house with little to keep them company but television and bedtime stories. Pulling a new book from the shelf, Amelia reads the tale of The Babadook, a menacing creature with a presence that is seemingly inescapable. When the book and its titular character start to take on a life of its own, Amelia and Samuel face their fears as the lines between reality and fiction become ever harder to decipher.
There’s some marvelously rewarding sequences here, whether you are a horror aficionado or a scaredy-cat that burrows under the covers when the scares get too overwhelming. Kent wisely keeps the performances small while showing how many dark corners this house has for evil to lurk. Bolstered by a creepy performance from Wiseman and a heroically tremendous one from Davis, the film has more intensely dramatic scenes than it does outright terror (fear not you scare hounds, several deviously executed bits will provide you with your goosebump quota for 2014 and 2015), providing the kind of balance that many similar films struggle to find.
Watching this film at home, I can imagine the experience to be slightly different in a movie theater seeing that you always have the safety of your home to retreat to. Since The Babadook is all about the fear that you may just be manifesting on our own, conjuring those images while in a space you consider safe may not be the wisest choice either if you have any hope of getting a decent night’s rest.
Worthy of the good buzz and accolades it’s receiving, The Babadook is a smart, skilled film that heralds the arrival of a significant writer-director in Kent. Seek it out, but beware that you may not be able to get rid of The Babadook once you’ve let it in.