Directed by Jennifer Kent
Written by Jennifer Kent
Starring Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Noah Wiseman
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.
Early on in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, within the first couple of minutes in fact, you get the impression that there may something special taking place in front of your eyes. Whether it’s the cold, forbidding crispness of her chilly colourisation or the choice of shot direction that purposely makes the viewer feel on edge is a tricky conclusion to come to. From the outset, you are wondering straight away if everything you think you saw was actually there and moreover, if it was there, did you see it really as you thought you did? Purposeful and bold, even brittle, in intent, Kent’s message is clear; this is designed to make you feel, if not uncomfortable, then almost certainly wary and heightened of sense.
Wallowing in an unfortunate reality, Amelia is a widowed mother to Samuel. After losing her husband in a car accident as he drove her to the hospital give birth to their son, she is left rattling around a house too large for the pair of them, with memories of a previous life that lingers, cloyingly. Samuel is a creative, imaginative but troubled, imperfect child with behavioural issues, already fearful of the dark and the things that he is convinced lurk in his closet and under his bed. He fashions weapons from household objects, performs magical tricks in a top hate and cape and worries his mother incessantly, and also the teachers of his school, who feel that one-to-one attention is the only way to fix his disruptive nature.
And all of this is summed up in an already haunting first quarter of an hour which, without jump scares or the supernatural, sets the tone of the film admirably, ably rounding out characters we have only met briefly, but are already fascinated by. Amelia’s life is fairly insular, with her only real outlet being her work, in the dementia ward of an old people’s care home. The rest of her time is spent with her son as they just about survive their own respective mental torments. Parenting is something of a question mark, however, as you do have to wonder, that despite Samuel not remembering his father due to not being born when his father passed away, he seems remarkably close to him, or at least the memory, that must have been imposed upon him, along with a few less savoury quirks and foibles no doubt, from his mother.
One of the things The Babadook has going for it is the characters themselves. All real, all here and riddled with the usual imperfections that you expect to find with real people. For large portions of the running time, there is a good chance that you could stop for a minute and just argue that this is nothing more than entirely possible, little more supernatural than the efforts of a joker with bad taste or the effects that a prolonged lack of sleep could provide. The reactions to events surrounding this duo are palpable and the slow unraveling as Amelia becomes more and more unhinged is almost salacious to watch, down to a great turn from Essie Davis herself, who plays Amelia perfectly.
Psychological in both intent and deployment, The Babadook is far from your usual horror fare that you may well be more than tired of this year, thanks to a profit hungry Hollywood splurging all over our screens on almost a fortnightly basis. This partly funded $2.5 million Kickstarter project hails from Australia and was first seen at Sundance in January this year, to critical success, a world away from the suits and the perfect smiles of Los Angeles, which appears to be to its enduring credit.
Likened to The Orphanage for obvious reasons, there is a very strong sense of the mother/child relationship at work and not always in a good way, which will sometimes bring some surprising reactions from the films audiences, not least when Amelia is in full on, out-and-out batshit crazy mode.
But like all of the very best horror movies, it is less about what you see but what you’re left to imagine and the crux of the scares are left for you to create yourself. There is minimal bloodletting and practically little gore to speak, which speaks volume about the tension provide by a simple but effective score, some unnerving direction and some excellent performances, both from Davis and the outstanding Noah Wiseman, who manages to annoy the hell out of everyone, before becoming sweet enough to want to give a great big protective hug to yourself.
In all, an often edge of the seat experience which never fails to impress throughout. Most definitely worth a viewing if you like your scares emanating from the brain. IF you want to be scared rather than grossed out, then this is definitely the film for you. The best of the genre this year.