The 400-Word-Review: The Babadook
By Sean Collier
December 10, 2014
When horror films grow stale on this continent, it’s up to the rest of the world to pick up the slack. This has fallen to Italy, Japan, Mexico and France in recent memory; if The Babadook, a first feature from director Jennifer Kent, is any indication, we may be able to add Australia to that list.
The life of Samuel (Noah Wiseman) began with almost unimaginable trauma: his father was killed in a car accident en route to his delivery. Mother and child were spared, but not unharmed; seven years later, it’s no wonder that the child is a bit off. He’s argumentative and hyperactive, he has serious trouble making friends and he can’t stop talking about a pervasive boogeyman called Mr. Babadook that lives in his closet.
Haggard mother Amelia (Essie Davis) brushes off Samuel’s entreaties until he begins lashing out violently at other children. Unable to place him in a school, the two withdraw into their home; when a storybook depicting Mr. Babadook’s impending attacks appears on Samuel’s shelves, Amelia begins doubting her own senses. And, more importantly, the audience begins doubting the truth — is this badly-traumatized family finally losing it, or is there something in the closet after all?
Part of the beauty here is in the simplicity of the premise: either there’s an unexplainable monster, or they’re both crazy. Even good American horror films have of late felt like Satanic detective novels; possessed or otherwise supernaturally-imperiled 20-somethings must get to the bottom of a long-running conspiracy and/or centuries of mythology to figure out why exactly a particular demon is inhabiting their punch bowl. No such trivialities here; The Babadook boils down to that madness-or-monster debate, and the question of how many people will be killed before a solution presents itself.
Davis is unforgettable, transitioning Amelia from concerned parent to sleep-deprived maniac one scene at a time. In a world where such things weren’t reserved for non-genre work, she’d be in the conversation among the year’s best performances.
It should be said that The Babadook may feel particularly brutal to domestic audiences, as a general watering-down of horror has pushed vaguer fates — disappearances, possessions, bloodless disintegrations — to the fore. The horrors here are plain, sharp and merciless. But that’s just what a genre too comfortable with PG-13 ratings needs; with any luck, The Babadook will cast a shadow long enough to darken Hollywood.
My Rating: 9/10