Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Hayley McElhinney.
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Running Time: 93 mins
Release date: 24th October 2014
Thank you, Jennifer Kent! For years I have done nothing but complain at the low standard of mainstream horror films coming out of Hollywood, in which we are given nothing more than films full of people going “BOO!” So thank you, Jennifer Kent, for producing a genuinely creepy and sometimes terrifying film that doesn’t just rely on quiet, quiet, LOUD but real horror and characters you actually care about.
Amelia is a single mother still haunted by the death of her husband five years earlier. Her son, Samuel, is a mess, terrified by the monsters that live in his room, he has built weapons to fend them off and is taking his tales into school, isolating him from others and even freaking out his cousin. He is totally out of control and Amelia doesn’t know what to do. One night, he asks her to read a book to him: a red pop-up book called Mister Babadook. Realising that it is completely inappropriate, Amelia stops but soon discovers that the Babadook may not be just a simple children’s book but the release of something evil.
From the off-start, you just know that you are in for something special. Mainly because Ms Kent, making her feature debut as a director, knows that the camera is more than just something you point at actors, who then do the rest. The film looks interesting. Different angles are used, close-ups of the ordinary, it instantly gives the impression that this is going to be unsettling. Even the set design is unique. An ordinary house is painted in cold, uninviting blue, given an almost Gothic feel without it actually being all twisted and dark.
As the film start, we see Samuel as this monstrous little boy who has a head full of nightmares and a scream that goes right through you. He, too, looks unsettling, as if Kent has found a mini monster that is equal to the title character. For the first half, we watch as Amelia becomes more and more desperate to find a way of controlling her son. Losing sleep night after night as he keeps her awake with his furtive imagination.
The film taps into the overbearing fears of being a parent. Every dark, shadowy corner there could be a potential danger. Staying up worrying about these things don’t actually help the situation but having the boy’s school come down on you and the local authorities somewhat concerned don’t help matter either and these are things that add to the nightmare that Amelia is about to suffer.
It is when the Babadook is released that the film takes the standard “boy in peril” to a whole new level. Kent treats her audience with respect, telling them very little and delivering loads. Nothing is fully explained, making the “thing” that haunts both Amelia and Samuel’s world even more scary. It is the monster in the cupboard, the creature under the bed, the thing in the shadows and when it makes its appearance, we are never disappointed.
Kent understands cinema and how to use it to the best of its advantage. Never using CGI but stop-motion and camera trickery, she reverts back to the time of George Melies and the incredible films he was producing back at the turn of the 20th century. We get references to various genre movies as well as clips from Lon Chaney and other horror classics. She is a film maker who loves film.
The performances are excellent. (From a horror film, I hear you cry?) Yes, from a horror film. Essie Davis as Amelia is amazing. Looking not to dissimilar to Laura Linney, we watch as she slowly falls apart to a woman full of hate and desperation and it is a transformation that works brilliantly. Hence why the film works. We believe in her and her plight and we are emotionally involved. As Samuel, young Noah Wiseman is a very disturbing young man who is expected to do some pretty horrifying things and yet you feel very protective of him. It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him in the list of scary children, along with Linda Blair and the boy who played Damien in The Omen.
The Babadook is a masterpiece of modern horror. It’s a psychological thriller that knows exactly how to creep you out. The sights and sounds will haunt you hours after you’ve seen it and in a world where horror films have been reduced to cheap thrills and nasty visions, once you have seen this, you will demand so much more. This wouldn’t look out-of-place in a double bill with that other disturbing parenting horror, The Shining. Yes, it’s that good.