In Review: The Babadook

by Daniel Goodwin on 24/10/2014


In a genre constantly capitalising on unimaginative, cheap thrills to scare audiences, The Babadook arrives like an invigorating breath of fresh air. First time writer/ director Jennifer Kent builds terror through vexing drama and deeply unnerving sound. Seven years after the death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davies) and her son Samuel (born on the day his Dad died) share a troubled life, both wrestling with grief and metaphorical demons, each day bringing some new challenge. Amelia then discovers a mysterious children’s book called “Mister Babadook” in Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) bedroom. Soon after, odd things begin occurring around the house. Amelia’s mental state declines and the cloaked, disjointed character from the book transcends into the real world with murderous intent.

Jennifer Kent’s rich, expressionist style blends techniques that chill and startle while restrained visual effects and surreal design allure and terrify. But The Babadook isn’t all about the execution. Kent emphasises the family drama at the film’s core, evoking empathy, despair and tension before guiding the story into supernatural territory.

The story wisely spends time setting up the mother and son’s bleak home life, establishing troubled school scenes and sterile day jobs, before sliding into the surreal horror scenes. But there are so many other redeeming qualities. Ghostly hues and scary props (clothes hung over furniture resemble people) complement nightmarish sets and off-key characters like the shaky old neighbour with a TV looping weird horror films. Meanwhile restrained CG effects provide subtle yet potent triggers that meddle with viewer imaginations while strong drama instils a much needed empathy for the shocks to work best.

Outstanding lead performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman help shape The Babadook into a genre masterpiece but despite feeling fresh, it isn’t totally unique. The film borrows from The Shining (1980), Poltergeist (1982) and Nosferatu (1922) with its long clawed, shadowy creature design but it remains a startling and confident scare-fest that burrows under the skin and nests there. With a strong, franchise-ripe figure destined for iconic status, Jennifer Kent’s nifty scare tactics drive The Babadook into a maddening finale merging psychological terror and the supernatural. It’s a wonderful, abstract horror that will haunt for days after.

Daniel has awarded The Babadook five Torches of Truth

5 torches

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