Greetings again from the darkness. There is nothing more frightening than the thoughts that occur within the recesses of our own mind. And therein lies the problem with so many “horror” movies. We may squirm and cover our eyes while watching the latest slasher film, but to stick with us as real horror, a film must tap into those internal, psychological fears that we each carry. This first feature film from writer/director Jennifer Kent does that so effectively that I am hesitant to write much more than … go see this one (but of course, I will).
Ms. Kent has fully developed her award winning short film Monster from 2005. With a limited budget of around $2 million, she has figured out a way to utilize many horror staples: a misfit child, the family dog, an old house with creaky floors and doors, a musty basement, old reliables like under the bed and in the closet, open windows, and the always effective knocks on the door. Combine these touches with an incredibly creepy and dramatically graphically illustrated children’s book, and terrific characters in the mom and her young son, and all the elements are in place for a suspenseful and terrifying film that is a throwback to the good old days.
It’s easy to spot the influences of such classics as William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), but Ms. Kent has her own style with the camera and expertly creates an atmosphere of widely disparate mood swings grounded in believable characters. Essie Davis (The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions) delivers an extraordinary performance as Amelia, whose husband died en route to the hospital as she gave birth to their son. Noah Wiseman plays Samuel, the now 7 year old boy who has behavioral issues, fears the monster under his bed, and recognizes the resentment his mom feels towards him as a constant reminder of the death that occurred on the day of his birth. Wiseman looks like a cross between Elijah Wood in Witness and Danny in The Shining … only he is much more energetic and animated than either of those characters.
The suspense builds as Amelia’s lack of sleep progressively wears her down, as her job and parenting responsibilities rob her of any down time or relaxation. She can’t even get through a solo release in bed without her frightened son barging in for security. The dynamic between mother, son and dead husband/father elevate this to a level of psychological thrills that we don’t often get on screen. There are so many superb moments to “enjoy”. The amount of blood present is minimal, especially in comparison to modern day slashers. It’s much more about how grief and stress can affect us in sinister ways. In addition to the influences already listed, there is also a tip of the cap to pioneer Georges Mêlies and his use of magic in the early days of film. Babadook may be an anagram for “a bad book”, but it’s also now synonymous with a really good horror movie!
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a true horror film fanatic
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you already sleep with the lights on
watch the trailer: