<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Jennifer Kent. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Barbara West, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Benjamin Winspear
Apart from being a psychological thriller and a creepy film, The Babadook is also a cautionary message to parents considering having children!
If you’re scared then put away the book, but if you look and let him in, then there’s no way to get rid of the Babadook! You’ll be frightened under your bed and very soon wish you were dead.
This almost Dr Seuss-type rhyming of a mysterious book that appears on the shelf of 7-year-old Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) room is read out by his psychologically scarred mother Amelia (Essie Davis) to chilling effect. In fact, after she reads it to the equally troubled child, she puts it atop a cupboard far away from reach. But perhaps it’s already too late.
I watched the ‘scary’ movie Jessabelle just before this and wasn’t impressed with that film. The Babadook comes as a welcome surprise (though I do confess to having heard good things about it online) in a genre so cluttered with cliché that you can’t tell one ‘horror’ film from the other. It’s an Australian production too so none of that playing it by the numbers nonsense that Hollywood has gotten used to.
Amelia lost her husband in a car accident on the day he was driving her to the hospital to deliver their son Samuel. She never really recovered and the trauma of managing a job at an old age home (with dementia patients) as well as raising a very high-energy, attention-seeking child has taken its toll on her appearance and state of mind. Samuel goes around telling everyone she doesn’t let him have a birthday (that being the same day her husband died) and won’t let him even have a dad! He pushes his cousin sister out of a tree house and builds weapons to protect his mother from the Babadook. Soon, Amelia too sees and believes in this strange apparition clothed in black clothes and top hat with hands like Freddie Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street.
All those around her think she’s lost it. But all she’s doing is losing sleep and peace of mind. Gradually, the fear and paranoia of what appears to be a real haunting drive her to a nervous breakdown. She asks a doctor for sleeping pills. For her son. She tells her son to go eat shit when he’s hungry. But through the Babadook, first time filmmaker and writer Jennifer Kent is also showing us the tortures that a parent goes through with their children. The sacrifices they must make and the attention they must divest from their own life to perpetuate and ‘nurture’ their offspring. No matter how twisted and demanding the offspring might get.
Kent doesn’t resort to useless scare tactics that we’re so used to. The film doesn’t have too many jump in your seat moments. What it does have is oodles of creepiness and dollops of disturbing imagery and dialogue. It’s almost Tim Burton in its look and feel with greys and muted blues and even the Babadook looks like a creation inspired by Burton’s sketches.
The beauty of The Babadook lays in the cryptic story, which leaves room for doubt in your mind: is there really a ghost in the house or is it all part of the combined psychosis of mother and son who are feeding each other’s terror.
Essie Davis goes through an effortless transformation from timid to downright maniacal and Noah Wiseman should definitely be considered for a remake of The Exorcist, The Omen or Poltergeist. Their performance together is both dark and wickedly amusing.
Jennifer Kent has beautifully directed the film creating more tension with less gimmickry and more ambiences. Scenes that show Amelia trying to go to bed and the next moment waking up in the morning as if she had just 5 seconds of sleep are done so smoothly that you feel exactly what she’s feeling when she wakes up looking half-dead and completely drowsy.
The Babadook has gotten rave reviews and is certainly a good film, more so because it easily rises above the below average replicas that Hollywood is churning out in the name of ‘scary’ movies. Ba-ba dook dook dook, I dare you to go take a look!
PS: Do you also think the dead father looks way too hot for Amelia?