The Babadook (2014) Film Review

The Babadook 2014 Movie PosterReviewed by Jesse Miller,

What can the power of grief do to a person? How could that possibly manifest in their lives in unusual and frightening ways? These are some of the questions posed to the audience in Australian Writer/Director Jennifer Kent’s debut film The Babadook, a tremendously effective and strikingly original psychological horror piece.

Recently widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) is exhausted. She’s lonely, has trouble sleeping and is troubled by the fact that now her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is utterly convinced that there is a monster lurking around the house. When Samuel finds a disturbing children’s book that goes by the title Mister Babadook, he is certain that this is the creature he has been sensing all this time – and a malevolent presence begins to make it known.

On the surface, The Babadook may come across as your regular spooky haunted house film but should you decide to scratch that surface, you’ll find that it has something more to say about the intensity of grief and the primordial fear of what can take shape in the darkness and come alive in the middle of the night. Better yet, it’s craft on display blows most generic haunted house films out of the water. There were scares here that didn’t take a page out of what has come before it and for someone who has been watching horror for years, it was refreshing to be surprised by the scare tactics on display here.

With this film, Jennifer Kent displays she has an understanding of how to make an effective psychological horror. It’s evident in her use of lighting similar to that of a 1920s horror film to convey mood, in the restraint she shows when building the tension and horror and in her use of her world’s soundscape to unsettle the audience and evoke images of the horrible things that could lurk in the darkness.

This film mixes the elements of dark fantasy-horror you’ll find in a Guillermo Del Toro film crossed with the surreal and dream-like quality of a David Lynch film. In fact, I’d go, as far to say that if either filmmaker caught this, they’d probably be kicking themselves thinking that they didn’t think of this story first.

As Amelia wanders the creaky household, is she dreaming or awake? Is this otherworldly guttural shrieking just a product of her increasingly unstable mind? The further The Babadook goes on, the further it’ll explore these questions as it slips into something wonderfully odd, psychedelic and surreal – almost as if you’ve uncovered a paranoid thriller gem from the late 70’s.

I use the words ‘psychedelic’ and ‘surreal’ because there are moments in this film where we live in Amelia’s exhausted mind and coupled with the visuals and sound here, it distorts the world around her into something horrific and at times bizarre.

The Babadook entity itself has got to be one of the better-handled creatures that I’ve seen in a horror film for quite some time. Not only is it wonderfully executed on screen, keeping to the shadows, save for the brief appearance of a limb or a spidery hand creeping into what little light is in the shot but it’s the embodiment of our fears of what may rest in the darkness. What the hell is it? I have no idea, but it’s creepy, it’s otherworldly and it’s scuttling towards your bed in the dead of the night. Your mind can cook up the rest.

Essie Davis is outstanding in what must’ve been a physically and mentally draining role. Her portrayal of Amelia as she scrambles to make sense of what her tired eyes are seeing is immensely effective and man, when she’s angry, she is absolutely terrifying. Her change in demeanour from haggard to furious is chilling, especially with the look she can put in her eyes.

Newcomer Noah Wiseman is quite effective as her son Samuel. Child actors can sometimes be a tad flat when it comes to their role in the horror genre but Wiseman captures the range of emotions believably, whether he be troubled or conveying an understanding and love for Amelia in her dark times.

The Babadook is a striking and haunting psychological horror film, one that builds character and tension in a satisfying manner while meticulously fleshing out the scares and story. I haven’t been able to stop peeling back the layers of the film and thinking about it since I saw it, which is a testament to the strength of the overall piece.

My suggestion to those reading this: If you happen to find this film showing anywhere near you, do yourself a favour and go catch a viewing immediately.

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