A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
I heard about “The Babadook” last year and the fact that it had garnered a lot of positive reviews from the many different film festivals it played at, made me want to see it even more. It’s already been released in its home country and in Europe but it seemed to be taking forever to make it over here and I have been anticipating its release ever since. The movie will be released this coming Friday, Nov. 28th in select theaters and on VOD so you will have an opportunity to see a genuinely creepy thriller that relies more on supernatural ambience and fear of the unknown instead of stereotypical slasher traits like a knife-wielding maniac who chops people up into tiny little pieces.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother who lives with her young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). She is haunted by the death of her husband which happened the night they were traveling to the hospital for her to give birth to Samuel. Although it’s been seven years, try as she may, Amelia just can’t seem to move past this chapter in her life. Samuel starts acting very erratic and it begins to affect his school work so Amelia decides to keep him home for a short period of time while she tries to locate a new school for him. Every night, she reads him a bedtime story but one particular evening, she gives him the choice of stories and he presents to her a large book titled ‘Mister Babadook.’
The book is unfamiliar to her but she begins to read from it anyway. Shortly after, the playful prose which occupy the first few pages, begin to turn into threats of violence against her and Sam so she puts it away. Gradually, both mother and son start seeing and hearing things they cannot explain and even after Amelia has torn the book up and burned it, it reappears on her doorstep intact and it will not go away until it has what it came for. Director Jennifer Kent successfully creates the necessary tension required for a film of this magnitude. We see images of the Babadook in the book, a tall figure with long fingernails, a lengthy coat and hat, shrouded in shadows and Amelia begins to see it wherever she stares, a coat hanging on a hook or a shadow in the corner of the room.
Ms. Kent was obviously very influenced by Wes Craven’s original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” because her story appears to follow it in many directions. Sometimes, we are not sure if Amelia is dreaming or not and while we never really get a good look at the Babadook’s features, we hear him and feel him all around, just like Freddy Krueger. Even Samuel, at only seven years old, prepares himself for the inevitable battle he will initiate against his supernatural nemesis just like Nancy did on Elm Street. “The Babadook” is by no means an original movie, comparisons to other films are everywhere but it’s how the story and characters are structured that makes it stand out.
Amelia is still suffering the loss of her husband and has continued nightmares about his death and with Samuel’s constant volatile and unpredictable behavior, she never has a quiet moment to herself, even in bed. He either wants food or asks her to read to him until he falls asleep so she is mentally and physically exhausted and everything around her is taking its toll so when the unavoidable strange occurrences begin, she just puts it down to tiredness and frustration but of course, we know better and because of this framework, the film sets itself apart from its similar-themed contemporaries. It’s refreshing to see an old-school scary movie that relies on atmosphere and performances over blood and guts and dismemberments.
Slasher movies never have been and never will be scary. A movie that deals with the human mind and the supernatural, if done properly, can be very scary, as is the case here. Essie Davis as the long-suffering Amelia is simply fascinating to watch. She goes between flat-out scared to violently possessed to maternally protective of Sam in an instant and for an actor, switching between emotions like that is not an easy task. Noah Wiseman as Sam reminded me of a young Lukas Haas in “Witness” and he performs his role admirably. I feel that the hype surrounding the movie ruined it somewhat for me and I think I might have enjoyed it more if I’d known nothing about it in advance but as it stands, “The Babadook” is a genuinely scary movie which benefits from a superb central performance and top-notch direction.
In select theaters and VOD November 28th
For more info about James visit his website at www.irishfilmcritic.com