If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.
The Babadook is Australia’s entry to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival which garnered the strong reception it deserved. The Babadook is the brainchild of first-time director and writer, Jennifer Kent based on her short film titled Monster. Despite little to no commercial exposure, its impressive 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes is something we, avid movie geeks do not skim over lightly.
The opening scene sets the entire tone of this film. The Babadook starts in a dream-like sequence in which a distressed Amelia is seen being rocked back to consciousness from what seems like an out-of-body experience. We see a brief glimpse of the tragedy that kills her husband as she wakes up to a child’s voice calling out to her fervently. It’s the boundless energy of Samuel, her six-year-old son, who seems to draw out all of her energy reserves. Samuel is obsessed with magic, something he seemingly inherits from his late father. His quirks serve as a constant reminder to his mother of the tragic loss she’s suffered over the death of her husband. As Amelia struggles to cope with single parenthood while preserving her sanity, she inadvertently but understandably lashes out at Samuel. Samuel, internalizing the rejection acts out by behaving dangerously in school and in social situations – even pushing his cousin off a tree house. This results in propelling the pair deeper into social and emotional isolation and thus desperation.
The emotional exhaustion is palpable in this unwitting two-legged race, and the start of their downward spiral is hastened when one night, Samuel brings Amelia a pop-up book titled Mr Babadook. Amelia is creeped out by the mysterious appearance of the book – having no recollection of owning it. As Amelia reads it out to Samuel, they are further creeped out by its contents. Samuel is inexplicably terrified and begins to believe that Mr Babadook is indeed real. He starts having visions of the Babadook lurking in the corners of their dark, already depressing home. Samuel soon builds weapons against the Babadook much to his mother’s chagrin. Amelia, although dismissive at first, soon starts experiencing strange occurrences around their home – mysterious shards of glass appearing in her food and symptoms consistent to a house-poltergeist manifesting itself in their already ill household.
Sounds cliché? Well, this is where The Babadook breaks free from your average horror film. While The Babadook unleashes its terror on this already crumbly mother-son dynamic, the lack of jump-scares sets it miles ahead of its counterparts. Kent establishes her own brand of psychological terror pleasantly void of religious propaganda – a common cliched-pitfall inherent to this genre. The power of this movie lies in the palpable atmospheric set-up and also the portrayal of the characters’ descent into their personal madness. The sign of a great film is one that sparks questions in the end, and this seals The Babadook’s place as a cult favourite among the “thinking audience”. Don’t expect The Babadook to explain his manifestation to you, but fret not there are many movie geeks out there who have dissected and analysed the film in great detail to help you along. Overall, this psychological horror film surpasses expectations and belongs right up there next to other great films such as Black Swan, Pan’s Labyrinth and maybe even The Shining.