Is The Babadook a psychological thriller or a horror flick? I choose to think shrink because writer/director Jennifer Kent carefully sets the timeframe before events get nuts… But see The Babadook for yourself and you will likely agree that either way, The Babadook is a winner! (JLH: 4.5/5)
Written & directed by Jennifer Kent. Click HERE to read our FF2 Haiku. NOT YET SEEN BY RICH.
Review by FF2 Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky
The Babadook, from writer/director Jennifer Kent, is the Australian psycho thriller about a single mother “Amelia” (Essie Davis) trying to rid her house of the demonic spirit that looms in the wake of her husband’s death. In the film’s opening sequence, Amelia floats above her bed in a dreamlike trance, reliving the car accident that killed her husband seven years earlier. The specifics of the accident are unclear other than they were en route to the hospital for the birth their son “Samuel” (Noah Wiseman). Now a troubled young boy, Samuel struggles to make friends and find his way in the world. His mother, protective and doting to a fault, hasn’t been able to move on with her life and subconsciously blames Samuel for the death of her husband.
Their stressful lives take a dramatic turn when Samuel begs his mother to read a pop-up book (a la Wheels on the Bus) entitled Mr. Babadook, consisting of threatening poetry and disturbing images of a monster with a black cloak and top hat. Among the other cartoon-like images are Amelia choking her dog and slicing her neck with a kitchen knife. From that point on, the film takes on several elements of horror film classics to disturbing effect, from the shaking bed in The Exorcist to gut-wrenching suspense in The Omen. Samuel makes it his mission to save his mother who is unable to save herself as she continues to be lured into the demonic grasp of Mr. Babadook. Any more information on how they accomplish that mission would be a spoiler, but the symbolic role of the “monster” changes as Samuel and Amelia struggle to stay awake, alert, and alive.
Essie Davis is brilliant as the sleep-deprived, lonely, and overwrought Amelia reminiscent of Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream. But the standout performer is young Noah Wiseman as Samuel, the hyperactive misfit who is constantly reminded that he is fatherless and linked, since birth, to his father’s death. His unrelenting need to act out leads to a barrage of situations that unravels his grieving mother. But by Act Two, the audience shifts from intensely disliking Samuel and his antics to rooting for him – a testament to the carefully contrived script.
The film contains graphic violence, piercing screams, and vulgar language to aid in the spine-tingling scenes. It contains all the typical elements like unexplained sounds and loud noises to amp up the fear factor, along with a chilling score that stops and starts at the exact right moments. The cinematography and camerawork show close-up shots of tired, fearful eyes that make the viewers feel like they are equally exhausted as the mother/son duo. All though some parts were bizarre, The Babadook is impressive for its focused script, acting as a giant metaphor about either letting our demons take over of our lives or learning to keep them at bay, no matter how scary it may seem.
Review © Brigid K. Presecky (11/30/14)
Top Photo: “Amelia” (Essie Davis) goes through a nightly ritual–searching in the closets, looking under the bed–all to convince her son “Samuel” that no monsters will disturb his sleep…
Bottom Photo: But what if she is wrong? What if there is a monster in their house?!?
Photo Credits: Matt Nettheim
Q: Does The Babadook pass the Bechdel Test?
Amelia has to deal with her sister “Claire” (Hayley McElhinney) who no longer has much patience with Amelia’s ongoing angst. When Claire’s daughter taunts Samuel about not having a father, he inadvertently breaks the girl’s nose, which gives Claire ample opportunity to lash out at Amelia about controlling her son (“and the Worst Sister of the Year Award goes to … “).
Amelia’s only true ally is her neighbor “Mrs. Roach” (Barbara West), an elderly woman with Parkinson’s who befriends Samuel and looks after Amelia with sincerity and love. After a tough day at work and fighting with her son, seeing Mrs. Roach through the window watching television gives Amelia an immediate sense of relief and comfort. Although few words pass between them, Mrs. Roach’s simple act of being there provides Amelia with a bright spot in her otherwise dark life – most definitely passing the Bechdel Test.