|If it's in a word, or it's in a look, you can't get rid of the Babadook...|
On paper, there’s nothing remotely scary about The Babadook. I mean, honestly - It’s a nonsensical title for a movie about a haunted, spooky pop-up book for children, right? It’s truly earth-shattering, then, when this film sucks you into one the most deadly serious kinds of conflict one can imagine in a horror film - the question of how to reconcile the equal parts love and devotion to ones children, with the resentment and anger many feel towards them for the sacrifices they require. When this manifests itself as the batlike phantom called the Babadook, the result is one of the most chilling experiences you’re likely to have with a film this year.
In The Babadook, the widowed Amelia (Essie Davis) struggles to keep it together as her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman)’s nightmares and misbehaviour keep her in a perpetual sleep-deprived trance. When a mysterious pop-up book appears on their bookshelf, strange, violent phenomena begins to swirl around both Samuel and Amelia, leaving both they and the audience wondering what’s real.
The film’s two anchors are Sam and Amelia and as characters, both pop off the screen in every scene they’re in. Noah Wiseman is exactly the right amount of adorable, irritating and, when necessary, skin-crawlingly creepy. Davis, similarly, goes through an incredibly wide array of character twists that perfectly convey the slow crawl of anxiety and outright exhaustion creating the horrifying hallucinations around her. It’s the scenes (and there’s a lot of them) where Davis and Wiseman are together, though, where their chemistry is nothing short of magical, making even the most hardened horror fan viscerally feel each tender scene and each horrific one equally.
The Babadook itself, springing from the pages of the twisted (and beautifully rendered) pop-up book, is absolutely not one of the ghosts/demons from lesser horror movies that spend the whole movie in shadows, only to reveal themselves in the last few frames. No, the Babadook is right there from the beginning, in both sight and sound. If you think the word ‘Babadook’ sounds silly now, I’d challenge you to have the same opinion after hearing the painful croak of it in the film.
Jennifer Kent’s ability to mine horror from the real emotion between a mother and son is rather unique, shared only by films like Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin. With this deft handling of extremely nuanced characters and issues, I'm just going to say it, it's a goddamn crime that there aren't more female voices like hers in horror. Rest assured though, with more films like The Babadook, it'll be a lot easier for these types of voices to break through.
The Babadook continues a long history of Australian horror films that have almost always been thought-provoking, brilliantly-directed and acted, and of course, some of the most terrifying films ever to be produced. Joining films like The Loved Ones, Wolf Creek, Snowtown, Next of Kin, and a host of others, The Babadook is all but assured a place among Australia's best horror exports, and in my opinion, one of its best films of any kind.
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This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.