The Babadook (Causeway Films, Smoking Gun Productions 2013)
Who knew a child’s book could be so terrifying?
No, The Babadook is not a real children’s book – although the Babadook Campaign launched the production of a physical copy of the book available for purchase. Thankfully, though, the original book exists solely in writer-director Jennifer Kent’s electrifying horror film – a chilling tale of a mother’s struggle to protect her son and rid her home from an evil entity. William Friedkin, director of the horror classic, The Exorcist, even said he had never seen anything more terrifying.
Essie Davis is Amelia, a single mother who tragically lost her husband in a car crash while they were both on the way to the hospital to give birth to their son. Due to the tragedy, Amelia and her son Samuel (played by the very convincing Noah Wiseman) do not celebrate his actual birthday. It is simply too much for Amelia to bear – the remembrance of Samuel’s birth coupled with her husband’s death. Samuel is already a rather strange child, awkward and anti-social, and this worsens with his continuing persistence of the monster hiding under his bed. Amelia dismisses this as a normal child’s overactive imagination (didn’t we all fear the monster under the bed?) but this soon gets Samuel into trouble at school and begins to test Amelia’s patience.
Her only solution is to remove Samuel from school temporarily and the anxiety of their situation coupled with the monster tormenting Samuel takes its toll on them both. The late nights and bouts of insomnia weighs heavily on them and they begin to suffer the mental and physical dangers from lack of sleep. As Samuel’s fear increases so does Amelia’s desperation while she teeters on the edge of losing her sanity altogether.
Then one night, during a tender mother and son moment before bed, Samuel retrieves a strange book from the shelf in his bedroom. It is the book of The Babadook and as Amelia reads it, she is alarmed at the sinister message contained within and in turn alarms and terrifies Samuel. The book sets in motion the emergence of the Babadook and no matter what Amelia tries to rid their home of the sinister presence, it only gains strength forcing Amelia to take desperate measures.
The Babadook really is terrifying. Surprisingly, there’s little to none in the way of the overindulgence of blood and violence that seeps into so many horror films today. Instead, The Babadook harks back to the classic horror films, relying on the use of spooky shadows and creepy sounds, portrayed through one of the more original horror tales in recent memory, propelling its principal characters (and you) into a dreamlike, nightmarish world.
But the real horror here, above all else, is the madness, frustration and eventual slip into depression we witness the helpless Amelia fall into as she tries to help her son without really knowing how to help him. Because of it, she is further alienated from the very few friends she does have and she and Samuel find themselves desperately alone, trapped together in a house with a possibly imagined or a very real supernatural presence.
The Babadook won’t be a film for everyone; it’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of repression and where answers and solutions are not quite so clear, nor is everything black and white. But if you do desire an eerie, psychological film that boasts compelling performances with a story that elevates it beyond the standard horror films of late, then proceed with caution and beware of Mr. Babadook.