Moody, beautifully shot with a haunting, ominous soundtrack, The Babadook slowly reels you in and gets under your skin. The feature debut of Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook tells the tale of a widowed single mom Amelia (Essie Davis) her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and the tragedy that has haunted their family. One fateful night when the husband was driving pregnant Amelia to the hospital, their car was involved in a fatal accident that left her newborn son fatherless. Ever since then, she has been unable to deal with her grief, refusing to celebrate Sam’s birthday, and living a very sheltered life. Needless to say, Sam grew up to be a bit of a odd child, so when he reads the darkly disturbing The Babadook storybook and claims to see monsters, this doesn’t strike his mother as strange at first. However, as he continues to persist that he is telling the truth and his behavior becomes more erratic, Amelia starts to believe that there might be something more to the book than just a creepy story.
Essie Davis anchors the film with her portrayal of Amelia, playing the character with a balanced intensity that starts off as a fragile and mourning widow who is gradually driven to a sleep deprived state on the brink of madness. Noah Wiseman lets loose as the unhinged kid, making us question whether he is possessed or just a real brat. The stage for their performance is an overly gloomy, German impressionistic palette inspired house, almost humorous in it’s obvious attempt to be as dark and creepy as possible.
*spoiler alert* The theme of grief is an interesting monster analogy, threatening the family unit as Amelia slowly loses grip on reality. The longer she denies the existence of the Babadook – a monstrous version of her dead husband – the stronger the Babadook becomes. He represents her suppressed grief and until she deals with what she is repressing, it continues to grow and come back to haunt her in a terrifying form.*end of spoiler*
There was quite the hype surrounding The Babadook after it premiered at the end of 2014 with William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist being quoted as saying “I’ve never seen a film more terrifying than The Babadook”. This is quite the statement coming from the man who made the “scariest movie of all time”, and having read that I have to say I was disappointed. While I was at first drawn into the story by the strong performances and elegant cinematography, the grieving monster became such an obvious connection early on that The Babadook no longer felt like a threat. The tensions shift throughout the film, first the child terrorizing the mother than the mother terrorizing the child. This made the film feel a bit disjointed at times, the audience losing interest as their sympathies shift.
While The Babadook is a fun ride through a fantastical reality of nightmares and demons, it nonetheless wraps up a bit too neatly, choosing to end on a childlike note instead of really opening the door to hell.
Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent
Released 2014. Available on DVD as of April 2015
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney and Barbara West