Review: The Babadook
A reminder that truly terrifying and gripping horror comes not necessarily from finding the most novel or elaborate plot, but instead from execution, Babadook makes its way to the screen in chilling fashion.
This simple, narrowed-framed Australian piece of atmospheric and emotional haunting finds a mother and son being plagued by the imagination of the other. Samuel (a most expressive, wide-eyed Noah Wiseman) has wild thoughts in his head about monsters and other fantastical creatures while also being very matter of fact that his dad died on the day he was born.
He mother Amelia (Essie Davis) is less thrilled about her son’s willingness to talk about a tragic moment, while also herself still plagued by her spouse’s death. She is a single mother raising a curious child who is probably too smart for his own good.
That they are both sympathetic, fleshed-out figures fairly early on propels this horror, reminding of Naomi Watts and David Dorfman in The Ring. Samuel is frequently quick to find fear in the books he reads, but when he comes across one called ‘The Babadook,’ it proves more terrifying to his mother.
It’s terrifying to the viewer too. Already holed up in a vast, dark house that is far bigger than needed for the two, it’s easy to see how flipping the pages of this supposed children’s book wouldn’t help sleeping. The titular character is a anonymous man clad in a black trench coat and top hat, and possessive of monstrous claws. His intention is to be ‘let in,’ wherever that exactly means.
None too pleased with this chilling tale, Amelia hides the book – only to find a new version reappear on her doorsteps. This updated tale is more personal and paints a murderous future for her and her son.
That alone is tense, but as this focused film moves towards its third act, it avoids all the pitfalls of any boogey man tale, showing just enough while demonstrating that things aren’t just in our heads. They are cursed, and wishing it away or saving his soul won’t do it as it may in other films.
Written and directly by Jennifer Kent, The Babadook serves up the most terrifying portions of one’s imagination with near perfect execution. Both satisfying and determined, two tracks often lacking with films going for cheap scares, what we have is something that will horrify in the moment and keep you unnerved for much, much longer. Especially while at home in bed with the lights out.