THE BABADOOK

PrintE-mail Written by Joel Harley

BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE BABADOOK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JENNIFER KENT / SCREENPLAY: JENNIFER KENT / STARRING: ESSIE DAVIS, NOAH WISEMAN, DANIEL HENSHALL, TIM PURCELL / RELEASE DATE: FEBRUARY 16TH

A misbehaving child, a depressed mother going not-so-gently off her rocker, and a long-gestating grief rearing its ugly head as the anniversary of a loved one's death beckons. Jennifer Kent's The Babadook sets up an unsettling atmosphere long before the titular monster arrives, The Best Horror Film of 2014 terrifying as much in a miserable kitchen sink sort of way as it does in traditional spookhouse manner.

Wait, what - Best Horror Film of 2014? You heard us. As the mixed reception at FrightFest and upon its (sadly limited) cinematic release suggest, The Babadook is a divisive one, to be sure. Much of its success will depend on how it connects with its audience, being so entirely rooted in emotion and subtext as it is. For this writer, it struck the desired chord perfectly, leaving me cowering in the cinema, uncertain as to where the narrative was headed next. After all, young children and animals tend not to fare so well in this sort of film. And, in a FrightFest which took in Among the Living and Late Phases, those parties have come into the firing line quite a lot, of late.

In the firing line throughout, little Noah Wiseman does a fantastic job as Samuel, starting out as a little brat more worthy of Supernanny's Naughty Step than most, but managing to turn it full circle to make a horror hero reminiscent of a prepubescent Ashley Williams or more bearable Kevin from Home Alone. Essie Davies is equally impressive as Samuel's weary, put-upon mum, in turns sympathetic and horrifying. Her unravelling via Babadook is the troubling stuff of nightmares – the Jack Torrance of single parenting. This comes accompanied by actual subtext, something sorely lacking from many it-is-what-it-is horror movies of today. Granted, that subtext is so blatant and trowelled on that it pretty much becomes just text by the end, but its message – grief can consume all if you let it – is a powerful one, well delivered. It also functions very well without, Mister Babadook scaring plenty on his own. The cinematography is masterful here, not giving in to the temptation to overuse him – keeping the threat in the shadows, unveiled only in glimpses and short, shocking bursts. Its various jump scares will be of little surprise to those well-versed in supernatural horror, but it's in atmosphere and character where The Babadook truly shines. It never cheapens itself with extended peeks at the Babadook or a pandering, trite, sequel-baiting ending (which will never happen, according to Kent).

If you are craving something more, Kent's short film Monster is included on the DVD and Blu-ray, being a dry run of The Babadook with more traditional (but still very chilling) scares, a well-lit creature and pleasing visuals. Many of its tricks and tics are perfected in the main feature – as well as the bare bones of the story – so its well worth seeing how it all started out here. Various featurettes and a 'Making Of' documentary are also included, as well as a cute Easter Egg hidden in the Blu-ray menu.

With this, the Best Horror Film 2014 bolts out of the gate as a strong start to 2015, proving that there's hope for the horror genre's mainstream yet. Smart, well-written, acted and genuinely scary, however one connects with Mister Babadook, we owe it to this fantastic horror creation to at least take a look

(look)

(look).

Special Features: Monster short film / Making-of / Four featurettes / Theatrical trailers
 

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