If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look; you can’t get rid of The Babadook…
Jennifer Kent’s feature debut may just be the best horror movie I’ve seen in a very long time, but it’s a film that’s divided horror audiences; it’s easy to see why. While The Babadook is marketed heavily on the back of its titular monster, the story is far more interested in looking at the humans involved.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother caring for her young, problematic son, Samuel (an incredible performance from young Noah Wiseman) following the violent death of her husband in a car accident on the day of Samuel’s birth. It’s clear from the start that Amelia is a troubled soul, not fully over the death of her sons father, and this is only exacerbated as we see her life as an almost self imposed social outcast, struggling to get help with the child who everyone seems to despise because of his outbursts and behavioural issues.
Behind closed doors, though, evil is beginning to take hold in their house as Samuel is convinced there is a monster lurking in the dark shadows. Waking with night terrors that only add to his mothers lack of sleep, things take a dark turn when Amelia finds and reads Samuel a book about Mister Babadook, a strange, taloned man in a top hat who seems determined to come into their lives and tear the small, fragile family apart from the inside.
It would be very easy to write a spoiler filled review of The Babadook, but that would do the narrative a massive disservice. Among the clever design (the monster, mainly seen in shadows, is a terrifying image) and gorgeous cinematography, there is a slow burning story that gets right under the skin and hits hard at the viewers emotional core. Evoking a similar feeling to Stanley Kubrick’s seminal The Shining, this is more of a story about a woman unravelling and Essie Davis plays this to a tee. Her wild, darting eyes tinged with sadness and despair dominate many close ups and her struggle to regain control of her troubled family is often heartbreaking. Indeed, it’s likely that viewers with families of their own will find it easier to mine the narrative depths of The Babadook to discover the true meaning of the beast.
It’s the ambiguity that keeps the story strong and, while I’m sure the horror audience would love to see the Babadook as a new monster icon, turning this into a franchise would be an ill conceived move indeed. The subtext of the last half hour of the film turns the concept of the creature on its head and, when the story beats are not taken literally, the meaning of the monster becomes terrifyingly and gut wrenchingly clear. Much as The Descent 2 damaged the impact of the first film, a sequel to this would utterly ruin a beautiful, poigninant and terrifying tale.
It’s not an easy watch, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a modern horror film more powerful than The Babadook.