Expanding on her short film Monster, Jennifer Kent delivers us a story about a grief stricken single mother Amelia (Essie Davis). Her seven year old son Sam believes in monsters a little too much and is an outcast. After receiving a chilling children’s book titled The Babadook strange things start to happen.
Heavily borrowing (in a good way) from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, The Babadook is unnerving from start to finish. Our protagonist Amelia is troubled in many ways. Not only is her son not doing well at school due to his overactive imagination, his birthday is on the anniversary of her husband’s death which also coincides with her niece’s birthday too. So as you can imagine, she’s quite stressed out. And to top it all off she gets an unwanted visitor after she reads her son a bedtime story from a mysterious book she found lying on her shelf titled The Babadook.
In terms of bringing anything new to the table, there isn’t much here. Teeth get loosened, black goo vomit is spewed, creaky stairs/doors, playful spirits like to knock on your front door only to run away at the last minute, all that jazz. Don’t let that fool you though, because when done right, it is still effective. What does makes The Babadook so compelling though is that it does not rely on effects or those ever so annoying loud jump scares that happen every five minutes in American horrors. What it does rely on is brilliantly paced and well written storytelling as well as impressive performances all round. First time writer/director Jennifer Kent balances the movie with ease. Her timing and pacing is impeccable to say the least.
As for the cast, Essie Davis is great as a woman stricken by grief and tasked with bringing up a difficult child. Throughout the movie we witness her transformation(s) which left me wondering why I haven’t seen much of her despite walk on roles in the Matrix to name a few. Hopefully this movie will bring her to an even bigger audience. As for her transformation, simply put like this; if you ever wondered for any reason what a female Jack Torrence would be like, look no further.
Noah Wiseman as Sam is also great to watch. He draws the line well between throwing tantrums which make you want to ring his neck before becoming the victim and maybe even hero, did I mention he has an awesome array of badass ghost-fighting weapons? Which he built mind you. Supporting characters come and go but that’s fine, this is a story about a single mother fighting for her child’s life and soul as well as her own.
A third character that is worth mentioning is the house the mother and son reside in. It’s big, it’s old, it creaks and there are many doors and closets to hide in. Cinematographer Radoslaw Ladczuk uses the washed out colour effect and it works well, giving us an insight into Amelia’s grief stricken mind and world. Corners and ceilings are etched in shadow just like those doors Amelia keeps leaving half opened and we the audience biting our nails expecting something to jump out at any moment.
“But what about the ghost?” you might be asking. When The Babadook does make his slow appearance, trust me it’s effective. To my own personal pleasure Kent decided to introduce the demon in stop motion and trust me, it’s scary. Kent decided to leave him mostly in shadows and that’s fine for when you see too much of a monster, it can get boring. Just as chilling though is the actual book Amelia reads, with its pop out characters and eerie children rhymes which should be available in all nursery bookshops soon.
Despite the performances, the real star here is writer/director Jennifer Kent. This could have easily been a “been there done that,” type of movie but rarely in the past fifteen or so years have I seen a horror film where I actually care about the characters and gave me a slight chill here and there. Like James Wan of Insidious and The Conjuring fame, Kent is heavily influenced by 60’s and 70’s horror, relying on subjecting camera angles and brilliant actors all round. To horror fans and fans of movies in general, this is a must.
Director: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Tiffany Lyndall-Knight , Noah Wiseman
Running Time: 94 minutes
Release Date: 24th October 2014