UK Release Date: 24th October 2014
Runtime: 94 minutes
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney
Synopsis: A grief-stricken mother and son find their home invaded by a malevolent spirit housed within a mysterious children’s book that appears on their shelf.
This year’s Halloween period was packed with usual collection of bland horror movies. However, there was a gem lurking amongst them all from Australia in the form of The Babadook. By focusing on psychology over shock, it stands out as the best horror film of the last few years.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a frazzled mother, struggling to deal with her difficult child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after the death of her husband. The appearance of a sinister pop-up book triggers Samuel’s intense fear of monsters and gets him expelled from school. When the evil figure from the book begins to torment the household, Amelia must confront the idea that monsters may well be real.
The Babadook’s triumph is in its subtlety. It refuses to slap its audience in the face with jump scares, instead building tension and dread from its first moment right up until its third act. There are subtle variations in the colour palette and lighting design throughout that really come together to create a palpable sense of unease and foreboding.
| "If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook."
This unsettling tone finds its top gear in the case of the pop-up book that kickstarts the family’s problems. It’s an initially light tale that gradually twists the knife and eventually becomes a nightmarish catalogue of horrors. The Burton-esque creation really heightens the sense of terror and is a true achievement of design. It certainly left a knot in my stomach.
The Babadook also benefits from a handful of terrific performances. Essie Davis is an absolute revelation as the dishevelled, fragile mother who is unable to cope in the world. She renders every moment of the film believable with her portrayal of a grief-stricken mother, both devoted to and infuriated by her son.
Young star Noah Wiseman is equally strong, balancing inquisitive and irritating to great effect. With shades of Danny from The Shining, he gives the audience a way into the belief of monsters. There’s also a nicely understated performance from Snowtown’s Daniel Henshall as Amelia’s kindly co-worker.
| "You can bring me the boy."
By the time darkness sets in and The Babadook’s true horror is revealed, the audience is completely on side with Amelia and her son. The film’s finale bathes both mother and son in darkness as the evil force of the Babadook threaten them both, dredging up the horrors of the past.
There’s an exciting symbolism and subtext to The Babadook that elevates it above the standard spookfest. Jennifer Kent’s movie is a masterclass in things that go bump in the night, horror that isn’t really there and the real, inherent darkness of humanity.
Pop or Poop?
There’s something really special about The Babadook in the canon of modern horror films. It’s all too easy to make a low budget shocker, but this is a film that creates real terror from suspense and suggestion.
As an allegory for grief, it’s a deep, intense exploration of human emotion. Jennifer Kent really delves into her characters to extract the humanity from horror.
Essie Davis is a revelation in the lead role, creating a sense of realism at the heart of the film.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.