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ICYMI: The Babadook (2014)


A classic convention in horror films is when no one will believe the protagonist. There you are, being haunted, being terrorized and despite your pleas for help and belief, you are ignored. On the one hand, your sense of fear is magnified. On the other hand, you start to question your sanity as the isolation intensifies. One of the most effective uses of this device is in 2014’s The Babadook. From writer-director Jennifer Kent comes an old school scary film that relies less on CGI and more on mood and good performances.

The film tells the story of Amelia and Samuel, a widowed mother and son played respectively by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman in a duo of haunting portrayals. Amelia has never fully recovered from the death of her husband and she has her hands full with Samuel and his overactive imagination. We watch as Samuel is ostracized at school for his non-stop energy as he weaves tales and creates weapons to protect himself from perceived malevolence. One day, Samuel goes too far and injures his own cousin. Increasingly shunned, we feel Amelia’s pain as a single mother of the “weird child.”

Then we learn that Samuel’s behavior may be a product of a recently discovered children’s book entitled The Babadook. The more Samuel reads, the more its’ verses start to echo and resonate. First we see Amelia try to ignore the tale as childish nonsense as she starts to resent her own child more and more. Soon, both mother and son are trapped in a nightmare where they are fighting unseen evil as much as they are fighting for sanity. Film critic Glenn Kenney noted:

The Babadook is the most slippery kind of menace in contemporary horror: a metaphor for both the terrors of childhood and the terrors of parenting—particularly single parenting under a very vexed circumstance—that’s also, within the created world of the film, a very real thing.”

The Babadook is definitely the kind of film that lingers, especially once the surprising conclusion sinks in. It puts you through the proverbial ringer as you question the characters’ sanity and actions, as well as your own. A film like this works because of the taut direction of first-time helmer Jennifer Kent but also because the performances are so vibrant. Noah Wiseman has just the right balance of innocence and mischievousness to prove he may be more than just another child actor. But the real star is Essie Davis.

Before seeing the film, I only knew of Miss Davis from her work on the supremely delightful TV series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Talk about night and day. As a TV private detective, she is charming, resourceful and unsinkable. But here in The Babadook we see her raw and clinging for any semblance of lucidity. It’s a brave piece of acting, fighting both the terror in the dark as well as the resentfulness that she feels for own her child.

In the end, the only thing more frightening than The Babadook is the impending dread that Hollywood producers are chomping at the bit to adapt it. Stay away, Hollywood, stay far away…..

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