THE BABADOOK is a welcome addition to the movie monster lexicon and a reminder that the ‘Boogeyman’ genre doesn’t always have to be stale. Sure, all of the standards are here: a child in peril, the doubtful adults, and the creature lurking in the shadows but, writer and first-time director, Jennifer Kent has intricately constructed a horror film with depth. This is a psychological thriller masquerading as a monster movie and it sparked ideas well beyond what was on the page. There are equal parts ‘THE SHINING’ and ‘POLTERGEIST’ here with a supernatural beast chipping away at the sanity of these characters.
Also welcome, is the throw-back ethic of pre-CGI filmmaking that was equally successful in THE CONJURING. The Babadook is, essentially, Nosferatu in a top hat and, though we never get a very close look at him – his terror comes as much from sound-effects as anything – the play on German Expressionist cinema is spot on. There’s not much in the way character to this villain; he’s ethereal and more a representation of fear.
All of the performances are over-the-top but perfectly toned for the film. Essie Davis (Amelia) plays a widow and single-mother of 7-year-old Noah Wiseman (Sam). Sam is a troubled and needy boy and Amelia has never really recovered from the death of her husband on the night that she gave birth. When Sam finds a mysterious pop-up book (beautifully designed by Alexander Juhasz) and asks his mother to read it to him, he becomes obsessed with the creeping shadow within. Sam insists that The Babadook is real and, from there, the tension mounts until it’s undeniable even to Amelia.
There are a lot of things to like about this film but the one that really turns the genre on its head is the relationship between Sam and his mother; he’s a hard kid to love and, though she’s far from a villain – she’s as much the protagonist as anyone – Amelia is troubled by him. Her character, rather than the creature, is what makes this film so fascinating and scary. This is a 100% must see for anyone who likes a good thrill.
Avid film geek with an art-house leaning but a love for all things cinema, David graduated from the American International University of London with a degree in film production and has spent the last 10 years ‘chasing the cinema dragon’ through the United Kingdom and Los Angeles working as a field producer and writer. He now resides in Austin, Texas where he is a constant presence at the Alamo Drafthouse, a regular contributor to media blogs, and has assisted in the programming of the South by Southwest Film Festival since 2012.