THE BABADOOK (2014)
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The Babadook is an Australian horror film that has garnered quite a reputation online and I finally had a chance to catch up with it and am happy to report it not only lives up to it’s hype but, joins Oculus and The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014 as one of the best horrors I have seen this year.
This very unsettling story, written and directed, by Jennifer Kent tells the chilling tale of Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow and single mother still traumatized by the death of her husband over 6 years ago. Making things harder on Amelia is that her son Sam (Noah Wiseman) has grown into a very strange and emotionally erratic young boy who is not only difficult at times, but, sometimes reminds the lonely woman a little too much of her husband. As her husband died in a car accident driving Amelia to the hospital to deliver Sam, the boy’s birthday brings back painful memories every year and his 7th birthday fast approaches. But, to complicate things even further, Sam begins to obsess over a scary children’s book called Mister Babadook and is insistent that the book’s supernatural fiend is after them. Stressed to the limits, Amelia begins to see the thing too. Is the emotionally strained woman loosing her mind… or are they actually being stalked by something not of this world that wishes both of them great harm?
Even without the supernatural element… if indeed there really is one… this would be a very spooky and disturbing movie. Kent skillfully paints a portrait of a woman on the edge from not only the emotional loss of her spouse, but, the increasingly difficult behavior of the only thing she has left to remind her of him, their son. And being reminded of him is not always a good thing and sometimes Amelia becomes resentful of Sam. The complicated emotions of dealing with a child whose birth is a constant reminder of a loved one’s death and who’s affections are sometimes misinterpreted and rejected by a woman who has been alone too long, are handled very effectively and I give Kent credit for tackling some of these sensitive issues head-on. Then we get the added element of the title creature, whose existence is constantly in question. Are they being stalked by a supernatural horror or is Amelia concocting a fiction villain on which to project her growing resentment and frustration with Sam. Jennifer Kent is not in a hurry to tell you and it makes the film all the more frightening as Amelia starts to unravel and becomes more aggressive towards her son and the appearances of The Babadook become more frequent and intense and yet, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined. Is she possessed by a supernatural fiend, or has she equated her son with the loss of her husband to the point of wishing the boy harm. Well… you’ll need to see the movie to find out but, it is an intriguing and sometimes downright scary journey either way, whether The Babadook is a real entity, or a figment of Amelia’s fragmenting emotional state. And Jennifer Kent takes us along for a very bone-chilling ride that builds steadily, suspense-fully and strongly to it’s nail-biting last act. On top of all this, Kent has a very gothic visual style brought to vibrant life by Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography and there is an atmospheric score from Jed Kurzel to add to the already strong atmosphere that Jennifer Kent maintains throughout the film.
As for it’s minimal cast, the effectiveness of this fright flick is enhanced further as Kent also gets a tour de force performance out of star Essie Davis. Davis is simply riveting as a woman who loves her child very much but, is being exhausted not only by his increasingly difficult behavior but, by the constant reminder that he is of the loss of the man she loved. She is downright frightening at times as she becomes increasingly unraveled and aggressive towards her son and whether it be supernatural influence or simply a woman loosing control, she is a powerhouse. Young Noah Wiseman is equally effective as Sam. This is an instance where a child character is supposed to be annoying, to illustrate how much his mother has to deal with by herself and being the only bread winner in the house, too. It is difficult to watch Wiseman’s Sam at times so, we understand how tough it is for his single mom to handle this emotionally challenged… and sometimes downright creepy… little boy. The young actor nails it but, also surprises us, too as when Sam comes to face and deal with a mother who may mean him harm when she comes under, what may or may not be, the Babadook’s influence. The supporting cast are all effective as well, but, it’s Davis and Wiseman’s show as the way.
I really enjoyed this flick, it was intense, faced down some very sensitive emotional issues, was downright scary at times and all within the framework of a film that was both supernatural horror and psychological thriller. Jennifer Kent keeps us guessing as to whether this is a scary tale of a malevolent entity or an equally frightening tale of a mother unraveling to the point of wanting to endanger her own child. I certainly won’t tell you which it is, but, I will say, that either way, you will be properly disturbed and chilled by the time the credits roll.
3 and 1/2 creepy kids.