The Babadook (2014)

If it’s in a word. Or if it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook.

Australia is no stranger when it comes to horror films, particularly with their low production costs making a high return at the box office — look at Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek (2005) — so naturally, the genre is a great launching pad for first time filmmakers who are aching to break out into the industry; The Babadook is no different. Mixing the psychological with the supernatural, The Babadook — being the first film from Australian director Jennifer Kent — is sure to have many unsuspecting viewers wishing they had a jumper or blanket to squirm under.

Based on Jennifer Kent’s 2005 black-and-white short Monster, The Babadook tells the story of Amelia (Essie Davis), a grieving widower whose husband passed away in a car accident whilst driving her to hospital on the day of their son’s birth. Seven years later, Amelia’s now bug-eyed son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), is having a difficult time connecting with others or fitting in due to his increasing fear of the boogieman — when he’s not talking about creatures, Samuel is constructing monster-killing devices and taking them to school to show other children. All the while, Amelia is supporting Samuel on a caregiver’s measly income and dealing with solitude as well as the numerous staff and family members who are troubled by the bizarre nature of her son.

Where's R. L. Stine's 'Goosebumps' when you need it?
Where’s R. L. Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ when you need it?

One night, before bedtime, Amelia allows Samuel to choose a storybook to read; to her surprise he picks up a peculiar, unmarked pop-up picture book titled Mister Babadook — a children’s book that swiftly reveals itself as a nightmare in paper form. After reading this odd rhyming story, Samuel’s apprehension for monsters only escalates; furthermore, Amelia grows troubled by the book’s unusual nature. Once the story has been read however, Amelia’s life gradually begins to become consumed by the ghoulish character, the Babadook, a fantastical presence that gradually forces her to question her safety, sanity and her ability to protect her son.

With fantastic Burton-esque cinematography and set design, The Babadook instantly jumps out of the screen with its vintage film visuals, a blend between the mischievous, macabre and the morbid. Both, production designer Alex Holmes, Wish You Were Here (2012), and cinematographer Radoslaw Ladczuk, Suicide Room (2011) — who use a terrific, washed out, blue, black and grey color palette — have together shaped an environment reminiscent of Tim Burton’s early filmmaking days, creating a cold foggy atmosphere, while the fantastic subtle imagery from Georges Méliès, The Voyage Across the Impossible (1904) — which flickers across Amelia’s late night television screen — only enhances the surreal aesthetic of the picture.

The Mister Babadook book itself is one of the film’s most memorable aspects. With its haunting pop-up images and cutesy poetry, this storybook is sure to alarm any mature minded person and stands out as one of the film’s most unique and frightening elements. In spite of this, audiences aren’t rewarded with a big creature reveal, as the titular character is merely seen in shadows or lurking in the darkness — when we do get a glimpse of the Babadook, it’s a pleasing mix of rough stop-motion and grotesque puppetry in the cutout animation style of the pop-up book itself.

Morbid Munchies!
Morbid Munchies!

Although The Babadook contains the mandatory set-up elements for your typical horror picture — the dysfunctional family, the eerie house, the paranormal being summoned by an ancient artifact — the picture is elevated by the complexity and believability of its heroine, Amelia, and her dire situation, brought to life by the film’s terrific, relatively fresh, cast. In a mess of blonde locks, Essie Davis — from television’s The Slap (2011) — does an astonishing job portraying the emotionally draining and physically demanding trials and tribulations of single motherhood along with her character’s emotional isolation — one can’t help but truly feel for Amelia and her grief stricken situation. Davis is equally as powerful when she turns herself inside out and transforms into an unhinged mother, on the verge hysteria — she is almost as frightening as the evil entity itself. The young Noah Wiseman — with his enormous eyes, toothy grin and scruffy hair — sells Sam’s fear of ‘the boogieman’ from the get-go and performs remarkably well alongside Davis, creating an authentic mother-and-son relationship which viewers will no doubt invest in.

Being a woman, director Jennifer Kent truthfully depicts the struggles of single motherhood along with loneliness, presenting our heroine’s sorrow in an awfully compelling fashion. In addition, Kent understands our most primordial fears and preys on the thought of losing a child, loved one or one’s self. The embodiment of a terrifying dream in itself, The Babadook is anchored by strong performances and is a remarkably startling piece of cinema. I urge horror fans to check this spine-chilling flick out, as I can assure you that, once you’ve given this film a look, you won’t get rid of the Babadook.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

The Babadook is released through Umbrella Entertainment