Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
A mother and her son are tormented by a boogeyman called The Babadook.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widowed orderly with a six year old son. One night, she sends him to choose a book from the bookshelf for his bedtime story. He brings back a book called ‘Mister Babadook’. As she reads it, it is deeply disturbing to her and her child, and she puts it up. Soon, though, her son starts seeing ‘The Babadook’ everywhere he looks. Weird things begin happening in the house. Is The Babadook real, or is she just suffering from sleep deprivation?
Director Jennifer Kent has crafted an amazingly terrifying film in The Babadook. It is a horror film by way of psychological thriller that will leave you questioning what is real and what is simply in Amelia’s head. Despite the terrors that befall this tiny, two person family, this mother and her son, the heart of the film will be what catches you. Care was clearly given to make sure that you can feel that this is a real mother and son. That she would do anything for him and he for her. While it has been happening a little more frequently in horror films, this still feels like the rarity. Characterization. You understand and know these characters. And that makes the terror they experience all the more real.
I have seen a lot of movies. In particular, I have seen a lot of horror films. Since I was a wee lad, I have always loved the horror genre. Until recently, I had never felt that these films gained the recognition they had deserved. Sure, you will always have the terrible slasher knock offs. Occasionally, though, you get something like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (Read my review here) which breathes new life into the genre and opens it up for a shit ton more horrible knock offs. Earlier this year, we had It Follows (Read my review here). The Babadook certainly falls more in line with It Follows than it does with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. The reason I mention these two films is that they were game changers in the world of horror. Expertly crafted and exceedingly entertaining. Despite the dead weight of the horror moniker hanging around their necks, they were discovered by critics and horror fans and were praised for being generally great films all around. They gave CPR to a not so struggling genre by bringing the horror to almost mainstream critical levels. The Babadook is another that will change the game.
This is not a perfect film, though. No film ever is. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome in the enjoyment of this film is the slow burn aspect. Despite being an Australian film, this feels more like a British film. Occasionally, the slow burn aspects of a British film, and the lack of a payoff, will leave you with a tang of wasted time in your craw. This is a film I encourage you to watch despite the slow beginning. It does pick up and will leave you breathless.
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest bonus to this film is the heart behind it. Yes, it is dark and terrifying. But you can tell that this mother loves her son. He is her world. Six years after her husband was killed while driving her to the hospital to deliver the boy, her son has the same birthday as the day her husband died, she is still grieving. Every time she looks at her son, she sees her dead husband. That is a position I would never want to be in and I could see how that could mentally destroy a person. She is clearly in a hard position, mentally, and I feel this has carried over to her son. Despite being young and not able to vocalize or understand exactly what is wrong with him, I think he knows it has something to do with his daddy dying. It is a horrible spot. Before The Babadook arrives, it is a terrifying position to be in. This is why the film works so well. The multi-layered approach works wonders.
I absolutely adored this film. Will I ever watch it again? Probably not for quite some time. It is most certainly not a happy film. While it doesn’t end on the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ note so many horror films have adopted over the years, it isn’t a film you’re going to walk out of happy. It’s also not going to be for everyone. There is no quick cut, Michael Bay or MTV style editing going on here. It is a slow, meticulously crafted piece of psychological horror that will leave you in awe. Do yourself a favor and see this as soon as possible!
***1/2 out of ****
BIZZAM!! Fun Facts!
- The Babadook was inspired by the Serbian word for boogeyman, babaroga. It also bears a striking resemblance to the Russian word, baba yaga.
- This is director/writer Jennifer Kent’s first feature length film.
- From IMDB: Director Jennifer Kent was extremely sensitive about introducing the themes of the film to child-actor Noah Wiseman. During the three weeks of pre-production, she carefully gave him a child-friendly version of what the story was about. Wiseman’s mother was on set throughout filming, and Wiseman himself was never actually present on set during scenes in which Essie Davis’ character abuses her son; Davis instead delivered the lines to an adult actor who stood on his knees. Kent is quoted as saying “I didn’t want to destroy a childhood to make this film.”