The horror genre in recent years seems to have have backslid a bit to the 80s model, when a host of slasher movies dominated the market in the wake of Halloween & Friday The 13th. There’s a renewed interest in that kind of film, as well as a rash of copycat “found footage” stories & zombie thrillers, due to the success of the Paranormal Activity films & The Walking Dead TV series. But there are still some offbeat, interesting & worthwhile genre films to be found, such as director James Wan’s Insidious & The Conjuring, and one of my personal favorites, the Swedish made vampire tale, 2008’s Let The Right One In. One of the best recent examples is the Australian/Canadian horror film The Babadook (2014). It is without a doubt, one of the most intense, scary & disturbing movies I’ve seen in some time. The Babadook tells the story of Amelia, a mother whose young son, Samuel, is having behavioral issues and is acting out at school & at home. He always has his mother check his room for monsters at bedtime. He even creates makeshift weapons to protect himself & his Mom from the monsters he knows are real. Amelia's family, friends & Samuel's school feel he has deeper issues, and urge her to get help for the boy.
Samuel’s problems become so bad that Amelia is forced to take him out of school while she figures out her next move. She’s struggling to keep things together at work & at home, and we learn that Amelia lost her husband in an accident the night Samuel was born. Things have never been the same for her since. One evening, Amelia offers to read Sam a story before he goes to bed; he chooses a book she’s never seen before called Mister Babadook. It’s the tale of an evil spirit that haunts the person who releases it forever. Amelia finds the odd story distressing, and stops reading it. But Sam becomes convinced the Babadook is real, and that reading the book aloud has released it; he wants to protect his mother from the creature. Strange things begin to happen around the house, and Amelia becomes increasingly stressed & paranoid. The monster seems to manifest itself everywhere; and Amelia seems to be its target. Will this malevolent spirit possess her, and harm Samuel?
For a good portion of the film, this appears to be the story of a single mother who’s dealing with a difficult situation with her child, and sidestepping her own emotional issues. Amelia is losing her grip on things, and her son’s problems are only making life more difficult. When Amelia must face the Babadook to save herself and her son, is the creature really there, or is it a manifestation of her own repressed grief, resentment & regret? The darkness that seems to surround Amelia & Samuel could be self-constructed, and that makes it all the more terrifying. It’s a movie that leaves itself open to interpretation; is there really a supernatural menace at work here, or have Amelia’s inner demons been brought to life? Writer-director Jennifer Kent builds the tension slowly, and the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense as the film moves forward. The Babadook is a real presence throughout the movie, and is evoked by the eerie illustrations from the book, and the excellent work of Kent, cinematographer Radek Ladczuk & editor Simon Njoo. Kent uses shadows & sounds to evoke a real sense of terror & disquiet, and many of the effects are done in an old school style.
The acting by Essie Davis as Amelia & Noah Wiseman as Samuel is outstanding. You can relate to Amelia and feel for her as she starts to lose her grip on reality as the movie reaches its final third. Davis gets to the heart of this character, and it’s a raw, amazing performance. As for Samuel, he is at turns, lovable, frustrating & occasionally, wiser than the grown ups in the film. Samuel is a kid who clearly has issues of his own, and the character can be a bit tough to take at times, but there are other times you just want to hug him & protect him, just like his mother. Wiseman conveys all of these things with his fine work. This really is a three-character story: Amelia, Samuel & The Babadook. Could a supernatural being represent the emotions & feelings you haven't dealt with & choose to bury deep down? Would you have the strength to overcome that darkness within? The Babadook is an emotional, powerful & terrifying film that tries to answer that question. It will resonate with you long after its over. The cast & crew deserve kudos for creating a unique, unsettling psychological horror/suspense tale. The movie is now available on DVD, Blu-ray & for streaming on services such as Netflix. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szaLnKNWC-U.