“That looks so scary, I want to cry”. This was my girlfriend’s reaction to the trailer for Aussie chiller, The Babadook. Having now seen the film, it would appear completely justified; the film is terrifying, but not in the way you might expect. An impressive feature length debut from writer/director Jennifer Kent, The Babadook is a Freudian family drama masquerading as a horror film. Whilst the film offers plenty in terms of nerve-shredding scares, it’s more interested in its characters, and at its core is a story about a mother and child coming to terms with the death of a husband and father.
When we’re introduced to the widowed Amelia, who lost her husband in a violent car crash 7 years earlier, we immediately get a glimpse into her mindset; a flurry of noise and vibrations engulfing her as she falls into bed as if from a great height. All she wants is to sleep, to have some peace, but her rest is ruined by the intrusion of her son, Samuel. It’s their relationship which is the centre point of the film, and this opening scene sets that up beautifully. You get a sense that Amelia not only dislikes her possessive son, but holds a deep-rooted hatred for him. There’s a physical distance between the two, even in scenes where they share a bed or Amelia reads Samuel a bedtime story, which contributes considerably in creating a feeling of abhorrence. In this sense, the film succeeds where others have failed; masterfully planting seeds of doubt in our mind as to the mental wellbeing and true emotions of our main characters.
So when our characters discover a book called The Babadook, a twisted tale of murder that has a monstrous creature at the centre of it, and they begin to see it in real life, you can’t help but find yourself questioning what is real and what isn’t. As events escalate, so does the mental and physical abuse between mother and child. From this stems the film’s most tense, most shocking and most horrific sequences. What makes these scenes work are the performances from Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman. Davis in particularly impresses as her performance evolves many times over the course of the film, and she plays her character with realism worthy of the most prestigious awards.
Fresh and original, The Babadook stands out at a time where the genre seems content in recycling the same jump scares and bland characters. Not least due to the creation of the titular character; a nightmarish figure that is made all the more frightening through the lack of explanation as to what it is. The performances are absorbing, the direction bold and the scares are legitimately frightening. It’s a rare experience that will leave you uneasy and creeped out long after the credits have rolled.
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