If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook.
Creepy children, dogs whining at things you can’t see, and things that go bump in the night; familiar enough story beats for anyone who has even a passing familiarity with horror movies. Director Jennifer Kent takes all of these tropes and elevates them into something that is at once both frightening and human. The story revolves around a single mother struggling to care for her problematic son, Sam, in the wake of her husband’s death; however Sam is a bit more of a handful than the average precocious elementary student. Convinced that a monster is out to get him Sam begins making weapons and traps that set Home Alone to shame; unfortunately he also starts bringing said creations to class leading his mother to withdraw him from school.
Then a disturbing pop-up book is discovered.
Then the noises start and the lights begin to flicker.
And the Babadook comes out to play.
Horror movies in general are often looked down on in critical circles but in recent years two movements have sprung up within the genre as retro-themed (The Conjuring, Oculus) and meta-comedy (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, The Cabin in the Woods) horror films have garnered a surprisingly warm critical reception. The Babadook falls firmly into the retro category as the film proudly wears a spirit of 70’s and 80’s psychological and supernatural horror, in the same vein as The Exorcist and The Shining, and boasts one of the most creative creature designs in recent years. The titular creature borrows heavily from the early days of cinema, part Nosferatu part evil mime, with the sound design being fantastic as well and is likely to drive anyone afraid of insects out of their skin. However all the effective scares in the world wouldn’t amount to anything if the human cast wasn’t spot on and the mother-son duo are a sight to behold. Young Noah Wiseman as Sam is not an average child-in-peril and manages to create strong audience sympathy for what could have been a shallow character as Sam sways between shrieking terror and childlike resolve to try and protect himself and his mother. Likewise, Essie Davis as the mother Amelia excels in her role as a mother pushed to the edge of sanity as she begins to question not only her son but her slipping sanity as well; just as Jack Nicholson in The Shining gave audiences a terrifying view into the madness of fatherhood, Essie Davis delivers an awards caliber performance as a mother desperate to understand and drive back the darkness seeping into her life. The Babadook has many things going for it as it is both hauntingly intelligently in its depictions of mother-son relationships and the cost of grief while also being effectively terrifying in a supernatural and real world sense; so whether you enjoy psychological thrillers, supernatural horror movies, or indie darlings then The Babadook has what you want. Out now in select theaters and on VOD, this is one film well worth a look, even if you have to do so with your hands over your eyes.
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