The Babadook Movie Review
This 2014 Australian film, written and directed by Jennifer Kent, has a 98% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I had heard people raving about the film and knew that it was a hug critical success in Australia and had even garnered some awards talk. It is has now made its way to DVD and On Demand and worth every penny.
The film stars Essie Davis (The Matrix: Reloaded and The Matrix: Revolutions) as Amelia, a grieving widow who has never forgotten about her husband, Oskar. He was killed in a car accident seven years earlier while driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son, Samuel. Surviving and working, but not happy at all, Amelia now must contend with a problem child in Samuel. He does not get along with other first graders or anybody, for that matter. As the film opens he is a little terror who breaks things, makes weapons out of household item, buys firecrackers online and is an all around pain in the butt. Amelia is stressed, working at a nursing home, just to get by and trying to hold it all together. She longs for Oskar and misses him terribly, but must do what she can to keep everything going along in life. Her sister, Claire, is tolerant of her but does not want Samuel around her daughter, who is a snot nosed brat, too. Doesn’t anybody spank their kids anymore for misbehavior? Samuel has nightmares and one night he asks his Amelia to read him a story call The Babadook. It is then, things start to happen.
I will not go into the plot, because this was such a powerful film about grieving and loss, that it could have been totally about that and been a great film. But director Jennifer Kent, who also wrote the script, has such keen insight about horror, the viewers get an added bonus of a truly frightening film. She balances both the human aspect of the film and the horror aspect, flawlessly. Is Amelia crazy? Is she a danger to herself and to Samuel? Is she imagining all of the occurrences? Claire has told Amelia to stay away and Amelia has become as big of an outcast as Samuel. Kent tells the story as a drama to set up the second half of the film. It all starts routinely, but The Babadook’s second and third acts are some of the most terrifying I have ever seen. With Kent, it is all about what is NOT seen. We see bits and pieces of the Babadook creature, but never a complete glimpse. Kent’s script and direction know that all she has to do is give the viewer just enough to let our imagination do the rest and the result is truly horrifying.
This is not a gory film. In fact, I can think of only one scene that has any gore and it is a quick shot. There are only a few bad words, that I could remember, so the film, still not for kids too young, is family friendly in that aspect. The Babadook relies on the writing, direction, terrific lighting and cinematography that all create the tone of a classic horror film. Which brings me to Essie Davis as Amelia. She is wonderful and deserves some kind of an award. I have never seen such a gusty performance. Davis plays Amelia with tenderness, compassion but can turn on a dime to hostile, hateful, violent and unpredictable. I cannot imagine what dark places she had to go to for her to get into her character. Her performance is THAT good.
Noah Wiseman plays Samuel and he is never truly lovable as her son, but you begin to understand him and understand why he is the way he is. He loves his mother and stands by her even as the Babadook terrorizes the two in a locked house. Samuel is a smart boy, resourceful and crafty with a big heart to which he uses to try and save them both. Wiseman’s performance is a strong one and I hope more work is out there for these two actors. They are tremendous.
The Babadook is a terrifying film. People can say that about horror films and I have seen more than my share, but I truly cannot emphasize this enough. The Babadook is a truly horrifying experience, in the best possible way. I put it on the list that has Alien, Halloween, Psycho, The Conjuring and Sinister. It is what horror should be. Dark, brooding but with characters that are true and maintain their humanity so that they viewers care what happens to them. This is a true masterpiece of horror and kudos to Jennifer Kent, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman.