In a genre that too often inclined towards schlock, it’s rare to find a horror film that truly has something to say about the human condition.
The Babadook is just such a film.
A micro-budget Australian horror, The Babadook takes place in the home of the frazzled Amelia (Essie Davis) and her seven-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), who has “behavioral problems”.
Amelia is a widow who spends her days working at a nursing home and her nights dealing with Noah’s overwhelming fear of monsters. Her only support consists of her judgmental sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney), lightly flirtatious co-worker Robbie (Daniel Henshall), and kindly elderly neighbour Mrs. Roach (Barbara West).
Apple-faced and care-worn, Amelia occupies a rundown house and a monochrome world with a precocious, disobedient child who just wants to protect his mum. Then a creepy picture-book turns up on the bookshelf and before too long Mr. Babadook moves in too.
For all the tropes at play here – there are looming shadows, a locked cellar; cockroaches skitter under peeling wallpaper – The Babadook succeeds because of its psychological undercurrents. The film delves into the dangers of repressing trauma and the derailment that can result.
As a writer, Jennifer Kent focuses on Amelia’s isolation and resentment: the blank-faced authority figures at school or the police station offer no help; as director, Kent highlights the passage of time – sleepless nights in front of the telly or lying prone under the sheets.
Denied any form of release from her hysterical son, Amelia’s increasing instability seems inevitable; and so the Babadook – a white-faced, top-hatted Struwwelpeter made of skittering shadows – begins rattling the doorknob of her psychosis.
Terrifying and low-key, The Babadook is a finely crafted work of horror that – from the pitch-perfect performances to the bone-thrumming sound design – promises to stay with you.