It’s rare to find a horror movie nowadays that doesn’t disappoint; clichés spring up, the villains aren’t anything new, and jump scares have become the substitute for legitimate horror.
But writer/director Jennifer Kent managed to sidestep these mines with her latest film.
The Babadook is an Australian psychological thriller with plenty of scares to go around. Though it does rely on some of the old horror movie tricks, for the most part it brought something new to the table.
Amelia, a single mother, lives with her young son Sam while trying to hide the resentment she harbours for him. After her husband was killed in a car accident on his way to the birth, she has been a woman on the brink of emotionally collapsing while trying to raise a son who is constantly getting into trouble.
Why? Well, Sam’s a little… different. He claims to see monsters and builds his own makeshift weapons in an attempt to defend himself from them. He doesn’t have many friends and clings to his mother.
The movie doesn’t pick up for quite some time; it’s mostly filled with Sam trying to plead the case for his sanity as Amelia tries her hardest to keep it together. It’s only when the pair stumble upon a strange book entitled The Babadook on Sam’s shelf during his bedtime story that the plot becomes interesting.
The two of them flipping through the book was where the cinematography began to shine. This entire film was filled with great shots, but watching Amelia read cautiously as the camera zoomed in on the pages was pretty disturbing. I adored how Amelia would flip through the pages but wouldn’t say anything. The camera would pan over the words on the pages, which forced the reader to engage in the book as much as the characters did. It was pretty creepy to read what it said, especially when it made a second appearance later in the film.
Inevitably, the book unleashes the very thing it tried to warn them about. Despite having seen this before in many horror films, I think Kent did quite a few things right.
The acting was pretty great. Essie Davis shone as the helpless mother trying her best to hide her resentment for her son. But she was also given the opportunity to play the deranged woman who becomes the Babadook’s latest puppet, which was always a favourite element of mine in cinema. I love being able to watch one actor play two completely different sides of the spectrum, especially those who do it well. She nailed both roles and it was really great to watch her.
Noah Wiseman was terrific as well, which isn’t heard very often when it comes to child actors. I had quite the love/hate relationship with Samuel because—despite his constant cries for Amelia (I can only listen to “Mama!” so many times before I start to groan)—this little guy was prepared. He had makeshift weapons ready to fight off the monsters, knew when they were in the house, and promised to protect his mother. He was like a tiny Winchester.
The artwork in the book was beautiful. Usually when a book makes its way back into our heroine’s life with new warnings etched on the pages, it falls into the category of horror movie cliché. But the artwork was divine. The drawings made it original and it was horrifying to see Amelia drawn as a woman who choked and killed her own son before slitting her own throat. The blood began to pour onto the pages and she had a huge smile on her face the whole time.
Now, I will admit that I wasn’t too keen on the idea of a monster called “the Babadook”. The only times he ever truly scared me was when he pounded on the door or when only Sam could see him. It’s pretty hard to get scared by something that tries to intimidate you by saying “baba dook dook dook”.
That said, the little details were the creepiest and had the most power. For example, in once scene Sam screams at Amelia for giving him grief about exploring the basement where all his father’s things are stored. “You don’t own him!” he shouts, which causes Amelia to step back in pain as Sam runs away. Another is when the Babadook is slowly manipulating Amelia and she roams the house with whispering in her ears. Every so often there would be an incoherent, throaty distorted screech that was much scarier than our monster’s catchphrase.
For the last 30 or so minutes the movie fell back into the routine of dragging out the story. Too many scenes of the Babadook pretending to be Amelia’s dead husband or of claws scratching at walls. We get it—the Babadook’s a dick.
Sadly, the ending disappointed me too. Amelia scares the monster away with a scream. So now I guess we know that monsters are frightened of middle-aged women who scream at them.