This acclaimed new horror film from Australia begins unnerving us at its evocative, bizarre title. What is the Babadook? Be assured that it is something adequately frightening; it lives up to its terrifying name. Writer-director Jennifer Kent blasts onto the horror scene—a notoriously tough genre nut for female filmmakers to crack—with the year’s best horror, a film exciting to see on a big screen in Athens. Seriously, The Pyramid was not very good; if you saw it, you have no excuse not to see The Babadook at Ciné.
Parents beware. It might become difficult to watch, as the titular nightmare haunts single mother Amelia (Essie Davis), who has yet to recover from the violent death of her husband, and her odd son, Sam (Noah Wiseman). After discovering a strange popup book on her son’s bookshelf, Amelia begins reading The Babadook, unwittingly unleashing some foul evil upon herself and her child. Sam is not an easy kid to raise. He takes homemade weapons to school, tells strangers uncomfortable tales and throws wicked tantrums. Amelia doesn’t make the best decisions, either, bringing criticism from her sister and scrutiny from Australia’s version of child protective services. Is Sam a problem child, a possible little Damien, or is something unseen haunting the small family?
The Babadook is absolutely terrifying for any demographic. Are you childless? Raging, little Samuel will frighten you away from procreation. Are you a parent, especially a single mother? Amelia’s struggles with Sam will tap into some of those deep, dark reserves of parental fear. The Babadook would be far less effective without its stars, Davis and Wiseman. Seriously, Davis gives one of those star-making indie turns that would have tongues wagging were it not in a horror film; even a tremendously well-received horror flick is ghettoized due to genre. One can easily see Naomi Watts in this role, when the inevitable big-budget remake is made. Amelia is not a fully sympathetic character, yet Davis emphasizes the struggling mother’s kernel of earnest desperation, not her failures from grief. And the young Wiseman excels in a role that would challenge a more mature actor. Whether or not the Babadook is real or Sam is crazy, the boy obviously has some issues to work through due to his father’s death and his mother’s poor recovery from that tragedy.
I cannot rave enough about The Babadook. It’s the rare horror film that people who don’t like horror will find appealing, yet it’s still terrifying enough for genre diehards. West mixes in styles—some imagery is positively Gaiman-McKean-esque—and narrative surprises to please everyone. And by please, I mean scare the babadook out of them.
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