Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Ben Winspear
After writing and directing the short film Monster in 2005, Jennifer Kent wrote the script to The Babadook, a spiritual successor to the original short. Kent has since described Monster as Baby Babadook. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the final film was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. It’s the perfect Halloween film with a new twist on the haunted house genre.
Samuel (Noah Wiseman) is obsessed with a monster that he believes lives under his bed. He’s built weapons against it and is constantly asking his mother, Amelia (Essie Davis) to check under the bed. Amelia is troubled and overworked, having to raise her son alone since the death of her husband. One evening she reads Samuel a storybook, The Babadook, which turns out to be a horrific story, giving Samuel horrible nightmares. He is convinced that the monster in the book is real and slowly Amelia starts to believe it too.
The Babadook is a scary film. The monster is terrifying, with a design that reminiscent of the silent era monsters such as Nosferatu. The atmosphere that Jennifer Kent creates is full of tension and horror. This is the kind of horror film that will make you curl up and spend sleepless nights thinking you can see the Babadook at the end of your bed.
This is only intensified by a powerful performance by Essie Davis as Amelia. She is intense and you can see the strain that life has put on her. Amelia is struggling with work and raising a son by herself. When the horror starts and Amelia starts to snap, she’s genuinely scary. You spend enough time with her and Samuel beforehand to make you care about both of them and not want either to be hurt. Noah Wiseman is also great as the attention seeking Samuel. He’s loud and obnoxious and while at first you can understand Amelia’s short temper with him, as the film reveals itself you start to understand why Samuel is the way he is. It’s haunting tale that feels very real, hidden under the disguise of a haunted house film.
Beyond the horror there is a very grounded story about grief and parenthood. Samuel’s dad died the day he was born and his death has hung over Samuel’s and Amelia’s life ever since. Samuel is an attention seeking child, and his mother doesn’t give him the attention he needed, she’s too preoccupied with a grief that she never got a chance to confront, barely mentioning Oskar at all. The monsters that Samuel is obsessed with are built on that oppressive guilt and The Babadook himself is a manifestation of that.
The only bad part in the film, is when the fabled Babadook makes an appearance, darting around the room and appearing on the ceiling. The effects don’t look great, and for a brief moment the tension and atmosphere dissipate. The horror is quickly brought back and the nail biting tension returns, but in what should be one of the scariest moments in the film it does fall flat.
The Babadook is a modern horror classic. It’s a tale about being haunted by your past and overcoming grief, but it’s also one of the most chilling and terrifying films of the last ten years. Jennifer Kent is a fabulous director and has created an all-time horror classic story and character.