MOVIE REVIEW: THE BABADOOK / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: JENNIFER KENT / SCREENPLAY: JENNIFER KENT / STARRING: ESSIE DAVIS, NOAH WISEMAN, DANIEL HENSHALL, TIFFANY LYNDALL-KNIGHT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
After the death of her beloved husband, single mum Amelia (Davis) struggles with her troubled young son Samuel (Wiseman), an odd child plagued with nightmares and a fetish for making his own crude but effective weaponry. After the titular pop-up book The Babadook mysteriously finds its way into Samuel's bedtime reading list, his bad dreams and strange behaviour intensify, leaving mother and son isolated from their friends and family and skipping both employment and school. As Samuel becomes increasingly convinced that Mister Babadook is coming to get them, Amelia's nerves shred away, prompting a sinister change to the family dynamic. To reveal more would spoil the slow-burning, tension-ratcheting plot, but suffice to say that the Babadook, for all Amelia's best intentions, determination and denial, is going nowhere.
From beginning to end, the film's sense of atmosphere is perfectly maintained; a building dread slowly bubbling away until it's time to come to the fore. Davis and Wiseman handle their roles well, with the latter managing to hold on to audience sympathy even when his character is acting like a complete brat (which is often). The monster itself is rarely seen, but even then there's no relief. It's a horror movie truth universally acknowledged that the more you see of a villain, the less scary they become (hello Darth Maul of Insidious) but writer and director Jennifer Kent shows us just enough of her monster for the Babadook to seem even more terrifying. There's no let-up.
Of course, this isn't just the story of a woman and her son fighting an angry Rumpelstiltskin – no, you'd have to be blind and deaf not to recognise the subtext, especially as Kent does tend to beat you around the head with it. Grief is the real horror here, and while the writing is a little too on-the-nose about it at times, anyone who has lost themselves to the grieving process for a while should respond powerfully. It's somewhat reminiscent of Shauna Macdonald's character arc in The Descent, only minus the triumphalism and pomp. A counterpoint to the loud but vacuous mainstream of Insidious and Sinister, The Babadook is a wonderful piece of filmmaking. It cherishes character over cheap trailer moments, genuine terror over cheap jump scares and has actual subtext – something sorely absent from many studio pictures these days.
A supernatural fairy tale with real humanity, The Babadook is a resounding success. If you hear him knocking, be sure to let Mister Babadook in.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10