The Babadook (2014) Review.
Helmed as the scariest film of 2014, The Babadook was certainly worth a look to see if its hype is to be believed. Director of The Exorcist, William Friedkin has made no secret of his praise for Jennifer Kent’s feature debut claiming that it will ‘scare the hell out of you’, which is certainly no understatement. Australian Horror Cinema is currently in a really strong place with a range of eclectic films that celebrate different angles of the genre, this year Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla and The Babadook have proven to be genre defying films of a high standard.
With a female director at the reigns The Babadook has received a great deal of attention, demonstrating how women can make frightening films just as well as men. There’s Friedkin, Kubrick, Carpenter and now Kent. The film has come as a breakthrough point in terms of a female horror filmmaker gaining deserved recognition for creating a genuinely scary horror film. Its completely refreshing that The Babadook has achieved a wider cinematic release, its a very brave film in many ways and while it may lead you to believe its a simplistic haunting film its far more than just that. On the surface seeing The Babadook in the cinema might mislead audiences into thinking their getting another Insidious or Annabelle. But The Babadook defies expectation in a hard-hitting way, it takes it time to develop the characters, keeps the audience invested throughout and takes an intelligent approach to the ‘supernatural’ sub-genre. Even its title is unique, setting it apart from everything else within the genre.
Centering on a widowed single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) struggling to bring up her agitated six year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), The Babadook essentially is a two hander depicting a family dealing with the turmoil of grief. In an outstanding performance Essie Davis portrays Amelia as a woman who’s had her whole life ripped apart following her husband’s death in a horrific accident which took place on the night Samuel was born. She’s distant from those around her and fails to discipline a mischievous Samuel who on the outset appears to be quite a disturbed child, playing with dangerous weapons as well as an unhealthy obsession with death. The relationship between mother and son is grimly realistic viewing and highly compelling. While reading a bed time story one night Amelia allows Samuel to choose a book and so they begin to read an obscurely drawn and cryptic story named ‘Mister Babadook’. As Amelia reads to Samuel the book becomes gradually more sinister as the pages turn. Both mother and son are certainly unsettled, cleverly emphasizing that parents can be afraid of things just as much as children. As the film unfolds and Amelia and Samuel’s obsession deepens, it leaves us to wonder who is this mysterious Babadook? and what does he want? and where did this horrible, horrible book come from?
Jennifer Kent’s characters are written authentically. Amelia is portrayed as a broken woman, there’s nothing glamorous about her in hows she’s constructed. She’s clearly vulnerable, beaten down by life and just feels very real. Noah Wiseman for a young actor plays Samuel powerfully, the notion of him being this troubled young boy comes across believably. A strong dynamic is created between the two leads.
The purpose of this review is not to reveal too much as its a film that needs to be viewed completely blind in order to experience its full impact. There are several spoilers online as fans and film reviewers alike are developing their own theories regarding the film’s true meaning and interpretations of the ending. It unexpectedly gets under the skin and is incredibly powerful in terms of its story, portrayals and direction. For me, its not the idea of The Babadook itself that gets under my skin and has kept me awake late at night thinking about it, its actually the gut-wrenching emotional impact the film delivers and its bleakness in terms of its tone. Dealing with hard-hitting subjects such as mental illness and grief is magnificently depicted and is the true horror of the piece. There’s also some beautiful homages to the imagery from the silent film era that compliments its creepy mood. Packed with high octane creepy moments and a disturbing concept at play, The Babadook wholeheartedly deserves every ounce of adoration its received and will continue to receive. It will frighten you in a unique and different way.
Sincerely tremendous, believe the hype, The Babadook is a must-see film of 2014!
Available in selected theatres and On Demand. thebabadook.com
Hayley Alice Roberts.