“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook,” warns a handmade pop-up book, which the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) reads to her son Sam (Noah Wiseman) in the indie horror film, The Babadook. Deceptive, suspenseful and creepy as hell, Jennifer Kent’s spine-tingling film might be one of the best horrors of recent years.
Amelia is a struggling and grieving mother, whose son is poorly behaved, and terrified of imaginary monsters. Amelia’s problems escalate when she begins to fear for their safety, as she becomes convinced that the seemingly harmless book has released a vicious monster.
Unlike most horror films these days, The Babadook is a character study. It focuses on Amelia’s struggle to take care of Sam, who has severe behavioural problems while balancing work life, and the dark memories of her past. As a result of her unresolved grief and her son’s erratic behaviour, she is very isolated. Her friends and family have tried to help her find happiness, but over time they have become distant. And which is also because no one can stand being around her son.
For a large part of the film, Sam is horrendously annoying. I’d seriously had enough of him by about the half hour mark. His squabbles, outbursts, tantrums, and problems at school slowly eat away at his mother’s patience, as well as my own. You are made to feel really sorry for Amelia. She is pushed to the absolute limit, frustrated and enduring sleepless nights.
Sam is the type of kid who blurts out the wrong things at inappropriate times, embarrassing his mother in the process. But it’s when the titular Babadook finds its way into their home, that both characters undergo a drastic transformation.
The film delves into Amelia’s troubled psyche, as the Babadook targets her son. Essie Davis as Amelia perfectly captures mental and psychical anguish, as she begins to lose her grip on sanity. It’s then that we start to see Sam as just a vulnerable and scared little boy. I found was intrigued by the mother-son relationship, because it’s so damaged, but yet they still love and care for each other. The film extensively plays with our sympathies for both characters.
The horror mainly comes from the circumstance and the characters’ tragic backstory, and Amelia desperately trying to maintain control of her life. The Babadook monster acts as the final tipping point, rather than the thing that sets everything in motion. At heart, The Babadook is about a mother dealing with grief and I believe the Babadook entity feeds on Amelia’s pain and suffering. The monster does still develop the plot, but it’s more of a lingering force in Amelia and Sam’s life. They are very much the primary elements of the story.
While The Babadook does have plenty of scary and unsettling moments, it’s not absent of cliches. There are rather a lot of scenes featuring Amelia running up the stairs for safety when as we all know, she should be running out the front door if she wants any chance of survival. You’d have thought by now that directors of horror films would have put an end this nonsense, but astonishingly it continues.
It does have its fair share of silliness, as all horror films do, but The Babadook makes up for it with innovative storytelling and well-developed characters. Also, the film is an intriguing exploration of mental illness and family turmoil.
The Babadook will appeal to those who enjoy thought-provoking, psychological and ambiguous films. I personally love these types of films. Those of you who prefer your horror films filled with jump scares, blood and gore may want to look elsewhere because The Babadook lacks these aspects entirely. The film is a great addition to the horror genre, and I hope they don’t make a sequel because it doesn’t seem necessary on this occasion. But you never know, we may have not seen the last of the babadook.
Quoted: “Ba-ba-ba… dook! DOOOK!”
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Distributor: Icon Film Distribution (UK)
Run Time: 93 min