“The Babadook” is not your average horror movie. Imagine finding a book show up on your doorstep only to find it’s more than what it seems, possessed by a ghoulish demon who will haunt whoever dares to read the innocent-looking pop-up book.
While there are plenty of jump-scare moments, “The Babadook” is gripping on an emotional level. It’s more psychologically horrifying than anything else, as the film poses serious questions about what it means to be a mother in a very complex and disturbing situation.
The film opens with a horrific car accident scene that is so visceral and well put together that it’s hard to believe first-time director Jennifer Kent pulled it off. This introduces us to Amelia and her husband, who are on their way to the hospital to deliver their first child when an awful crash occurs. Amelia’s husband is killed, and we fast forward six years later as Amelia cares for her son Samuel alone. The young boy has quite the imagination, constructing homemade weapons to defeat a monster that appears in his dreams. When a mysterious children’s pop-up book about a creature called Mister Babadook appears on their doorstep and Amelia reads the spooky dark tale to her son, the scares begin.
The Babadook is a creepy, crawly shadowy figure who lives not only in the pages of the book, but who comes out, mostly at night, to terrorize Amelia. He crawls on ceilings and floats menacingly in doorways and back seats of cars.
While “The Babadook” certainly exists in the world of the film, it’s really just a manifestation of Amelia’s fears of raising her son alone. The film spends most of its 94-minute run time showing us how difficult it is for Amelia to deal with her son, and the relationship between the two of them could not be more complex. She of course loves Samuel, as any mother would, but there’s also resentment since her husband died while en route to deliver him.
As Samuel becomes more of a handful for his mother, her visions and interactions with the mysterious Babadook creature grow more frequent. There’s a direct coorelation between Amelia’s psyche and the presence of the Babadook, so the horror can be interpreted as evidence of her deteriorating mental state. Amelia is overworked as is, so when she comes home to Samuel’s antics, she’s essentially pulling overtime — it never stops.
Essie Davis is fantastic as Amelia. Davis can express volumes with simply a look, and it’s impossible not to feel for her as she becomes possessed by the Babadook. A lead performance this captivating is hard to come by in the genre and really raises the stakes.
Technically speaking, “The Babadook” is incredibly well-shot and gorgeous to look at. Kent makes tons of intriguing stylistic choices throughout the film; her editing is lively and demands attention. There’s a shot of Amelia lying in bed, haunted by her past, that perfectly conveys her mental state solely through the visual.
The expressionist feel makes the environment pop so that every creak and shadow is just as unsettling as the monster itself. The horror elements work themselves into the film naturally and never feel out of place despite the fact that the film is more often than not an intense character study of a troubled single mother.
“The Babadook” is an exceptional horror film that is scary enough to satisfy horror laymen and has plenty going on beneath the surface to appeal to the arthouse crowd as well.
Watch the trailer below.
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