The Babadook (2014)

The BabadookIt’s been six years since her husband died on the way to the hospital for the birth of their son, but single-mother Amelia (Essie Davis) is still struggling with the loss. Her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is too, acting out and manifesting his fears in a succession of bogeymen. One night, when she lets him chose a bedtime story, he returns from the shelf with an unfamiliar and apparently unfinished picture book called The Babadook. It tells of a costumed creature that imposes itself on anyone unlucky enough to let it in. Sensing her son’s discomfort and in denial of her own she tears the book to pieces and throws it into the bin, only for it to be returned to her days later. Not only has someone fixed it, they’ve finished it.

The horror genre has been in a bit of a sorry state of late. Remakes, spin-offs and meta-analyses have proliferated to the point that Ouija — an adaptation of the Hasbro game of the same name — is among the more original horror releases of 2014. In recent years vampires have been romanticised, zombies have been humanised and poltergeists have been homogenised. Where once horror was used to explore diverse, deep-seated human fears and frustrations it is now used largely to titilate and surprise. Not so with The Babadook, a film which is much less concerned with entertaining its viewers than it is making them think, engage and feel. Refreshingly, director Jennifer Kent is at least as focused on her characters as she is on her audience.

The Babadook is not about blood and guts but is rather a study of fear. Like The Ring or Triangle, two other horror movies starring Australian actresses, it’s about the often strained relationship between a single mother and her child. Amelia is both suspicious and resentful of Samuel — he’s difficult, delusional and quite possibly dangerous — but she’s also in many ways responsible. Samuel has picked up on his mother’s anxieties, and unable to understand them he has projected them onto imagined threats, long after better adjusted children have left ghouls and goblins behind. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of distrust and perplexing to everyone outside of the loop, resulting in the pair becoming increasingly alienated from the support group they so desperately need. Not that you blame Amelia for having concerns — Samuel is a terrifying creation, but he is her creation.

What’s less certain is whether Mister Babadook is too, or whether he’s entirely outside her control. It’s mentioned in passing that Amelia used to be a children’s writer, and there’s every possibility that she produced the book herself, whether on purpose or not. The Babadook might not be a personification, but simply a person. The other option is that she is somehow facilitating it; that the creature senses her fear and is now feeding on it. (Is Samuel worried that his mother might let the creature into their house, or into her soul?) It’s not a question of whether she is responsible for what is happening, but of the level of her accountability, and it is testament to Davis’ poignant performance that you sympathise with her regardless. Ultimately, however, Mister Babadook’s true nature is as irrelevant as his chosen form: whether realised as an illustration in a picture book, a shapeless shadow haunting the family home or a cloaked figure stalking Amelia when she leaves her house he remains an oppressive presence throughout and a palpable threat to the characters we have grown to care about.

The Babadook is quite simply one of the most frightening films of recent memory — the characters are scary, the creature is scary, even the subject matter is scary. But — and this is what really sets it apart — it is much more than that. Intricately crafted and exquisitely played, Kent’s film won’t simply scare you; it will haunt you.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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