“The Babadook” was arguably one of the two best horror films of 2014, competing with the relentless dread of “It Follows” as the highlight of the year for the genre. Relentless dread also permeates “The Babadook” in a creepier, quieter way than “It Follows.” Like the curse of “It Follows,” the monster in “The Babadook” symbolizes a much deeper fear.
Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, “The Babadook” is about a single mother named Amelia who’s still dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s death years earlier and the ensuing behavioral issues of her young son Samuel. Essie Davis is outstanding as the tired, struggling mother. Noah Wiseman is effectively unsettling as her son.
When Samuel finds a creepy pop-up book titled “Mister Babadook," he asks his mother to read it. Amelia is disturbed by the book’s titular character, a behatted sinister-looking creature. Shortly after reading the book, strange incidents start happening at the house, ratcheting up the anxiety and tension in Amelia’s life.
“The Babadook” relies on a claustrophobic atmosphere of dread that gradually builds as the film boils to a nerve-racking climax. Is “The Babadook” real? Or is it a manifestation of Amelia’s grief over her husband’s death? Or is it the embodiment of Amelia’s stress as a widow trying to raise a 6-year-old boy on her own?
“The Babadook” is a film for mature genre fans who like thoughtful, old school, atmospheric horror and is best enjoyed in quiet darkness with the lights and cell phones off. "The Babadook" was released on video April 14 and is available on Netflix.