Logline: “A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.” (from the press release)
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
We had a Dr Seuss book when I was a kid that had one page that was almost entirely black, showing a tiny kid at the top of a very dark staircase and a pair of evil looking eyes at the bottom. I don’t remember which book it was, but I remember how I had to sneakily turn two pages at once to avoid the image, or I’d have the worst nightmares.
This film has a children’s book in it’s centre, a fantastically drawn pop up book that warns of an inexorable danger that lurks, personified in an increasingly terrifying looking stranger. So I couldn’t wait to see it.
This is the first feature from Jennifer Kent, which draws on her previous short film called Monsters, which did incredibly well on the festival circuit. If it’s anything to go by, Kent has a promising career ahead of her.
This film is refreshing, coming after a lot of horror films I’ve watched lately. It’s not a slasher film or a rote ghost story, but offers something a little unusual. And it doesn’t rely on simple jump scares to carry the narrative.
Amelia (Essie Davis) seems kind of quietly desperate as the film opens. It seems like she loves her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) but only from a distance. At first, this seems outwardly rational, as her son is a screaming banshee of a child, like a lot of kids in horror films… and yet, as the child tells her about his worry about losing his only remaining parent and his fears of a monster, his mother starts to in ravel in the face of events, you actually start to sympathise with the weird, weapon toting 6 year old. Especially as the two seem to isolated with each other in their creepy house, which is more like something out of Dr Caligari than a family home.
From the child growing more and more concerned about the encroaching monster, to the mother finally starting to realise something is very wrong, we are slowly introduced to Mr Babadook, a kind of top hat with a spook attached to it, who announces himself by leaving his book lying around and knocking three times. As he grows stronger, and the characters more isolated, he really comes into his own, and is truly terrifying as an adversary, lurking in the house, moving things, and making strange things happen like cockroach infestations and moving furniture. But he soon becomes more than just a bump in the night, because he isn’t backwards about coming forwards, he is a very real presence, infesting the house and making Amelia slowly go nuts. It’s great stuff, with minimal characters, and the soundscape getting under the skin and supporting the dark visuals, as well as the Babadook himself insinuating himself into the house and their lives, it truly terrifies.
It’s a very good film, with an unpredictable ending and a really original premise. Definitely one to watch, especially if you’re not normally into horror films.