The Babadook reaffirms some beliefs that I’ve seemed to have lost over the past few years, namely that horror is not a lost art form; film-makers are still capable of producing material and visual artistry which infuses fear into the heart of the viewer. It also reaffirms the notion that Australia is a country which is very much capable of providing strong and intelligent writers and directors to the mainstream horror community, with Jennifer Kent’s debut picture proving to be one of a very harrowing nature, and one that shall undoubtedly stick with me long into the night ahead.
Amelia is a young widow with a seven year-old son, Samuel. Her husband Oskar died violently while he was taking her to the hospital to give birth. The sweet and kind Amelia, who works as a caretaker in a nursing home, is not really moving on well from her traumatic experience, and her special child Samuel’s excessive hyperactivity and monster phobia is aggravating her woes. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent was lucky that the two actors who played mother and child, Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as Samuel, captured her vision perfectly. Davis was subtle and convincing in her dramatic transformation from mild-mannered nurse to a raving virago. Despite his gentle age, Wiseman was able to portray Samuel’s difficult behavioral condition and his efforts to protect his mother at all costs.
What propels The Babadook into a category of its own is its refusal to fit into the role of a conventional and generic monster film. Kent tries desperately hard to craft a motion picture that spreads outside its initial genre, and instead expands to a number of different ideas and messages, namely that of grief. In fact, a good way to describe The Babadook is to consider it a confrontation with grief itself, and battling the things that continue to cause us pain and suffering long after the event that has caused such has passed; when we lose a loved one or a friend, we often internalize the damage caused to us. The Babadook represents one woman’s attempts to battle such, and to stand forth and tackle the issue head on. In regards to the attempts to branch outside of the horror genre, Kent excels.
The cinematography and sound design are each worthy of acclaim, as well as the score; all of these are instrumental in building one of the best atmospheres. The camera often reacts based on the monster’s movements by stopping a close-up as a bump goes off in the background, and this immediately adds a different tension than what we’re used to; there is a certain anticipation in this sense, as the camera then continues on in its movements alongside Amelia. The sound design and score are equally as harrowing, both increasing in pitch and volume as the monster becomes more and more prominent within the film.
Unfortunately, the film falls slightly within its first 15 minutes, the picture often over-emphasizing certain events within this brief portion of time, commonly to poor effect. The ending is also anticlimactic, and the tension is not held as well as one would imagine during the finale of the film.
The Babadook was a throwback to simpler times when there were limited special effects and effective scares were dependent on the skill of the director to create these creepy moments. Whoever designed the Babadook pop-up book deserves praise because it really looked so unnerving, especially in its second incarnation. More than just the technical matters of film-making though, the director succeeds in setting up and elaborating the problematic relationship between mother and child and that was essential to make the whole film work.
The Babadook gets a 8.1/10