The Babadook (2014, 1hr 33 mins)
I had read about The Babadook several months ago. Drawn in by the strange name, I had to see what this indie Aussie horror, touted as one of the best horror films out this year, was about. I was immediately intrigued by the trailer, and was ecstatic when I found out it was coming to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival as the closing gala film. This fairytale nightmare was worthy of all the buzz and anticipation as it kept your gut in knots and will make you avoid your bookshelf for a while.
On the day of her son Samuel’s (Noah Wiseman) birth, Amelia (Essie Davis) loses her husband in a car crash. Samuel, who is now 6, is a handful; his imagination runs wild with monsters he must battle, and he invents treacherous gizmos that creates problems at school. His mother is a broken woman trying to keep her head above a sea of unrealized emotion, and gets no support from her sister. One evening for a bedtime story, Samuel picks a book called The Babadook. It has mysteriously appeared on his shelf, and it is a menacing tale that becomes too close for comfort, immediately scaring the living daylights out of Samuel and his mother. What ensues is the unleashing of a supernatural force that stakes its claim on their home and their lives.
What draws you in to The Babadook is not the dollhouse-like sets or the moody lighting and midnight blue palette, but the performances. Davis, with her fresh face and big eyes, played the hell out of her character who goes from distraught to a demonic transformation that will give you chills. To be in abject terror for such a sustained amount of time deserves an award of some sort! Wiseman sold the excitable, anxiety-laden Samuel who just wants happiness in his life really well, drawing out concern just as you were ready to write him off.
Writer and director Jennifer Kent uses the age-old fairy tale rule of a moral or warning in its most literal sense, in this case burying your fears and emotions that will eventually come back and bite, or stab you. She has also made a visually engaging film. From the simple household sets that conveyed a sad isolation, to the vintage silent film footage that haunts Amelia’s dream and waking life, Kent makes the indie into high art. And the fact that our antagonist, The Babadook, is not treated like your regular demon/spirit fare elevates the monster to what I hope will be iconic status. Also note the brilliant sound design that at times you could feel in your seat and made your skin crawl.
When this film comes out in a wider release, and I think with all its success it will, go see it. You will get a kick out of some old-fashioned scares, harkening back to the spooky stories you remember as a child, and the unusual ending will leave you wondering what will happen to Amelia and Samuel. Ba Ba Dook-Dook-Dook!