Release Date: January 17th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Based on: Monster by Jennifer Kent
Music by: Jed Kurzel
Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear
Causeway Films, Entertainment One, IFC Films, Icon Productions, 94 Minutes
When you live in a world where horror films are designed for preteens and there is a complete void of originality left in the genre, it is always nice to find a diamond in the rough. The Babadook isn’t a perfect diamond but it is certainly a nice shiny jewel in a mountain of coal.
The film follows a single mother still grieving over her husband, who was killed the same night her son was born. The son is very troubled and fearful of monsters. He is shown early on to be a bit of a terror but you can only assume he has some sort of mental illness. While it is hard to watch him at his worst, you can’t help but sympathize and feel for him and his mother. She has to deal with the world that is pushing them away and a family that despises her child.
We are then introduced to a scary children’s book about a boogeyman called the Babadook. Upon reading the book, everything for this mother and son duo gets much worse. The boy constantly sees the Babadook while everyone else thinks he is slipping into insanity. The boy warns his mother that she will die and she begins to fall into madness due to still grieving, her son getting worse and a severe lack of sleep because of the boy’s night terrors.
Eventually, the monster gets more active and starts truly terrorizing the mother and son. This film barely shows the monster however and relies more on suspense and letting the viewer’s imagination run wild. This method allows this film to play like old classic horror gems such as Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and those Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe films of the 60s.
This is not a movie about gore, jump scares and shoving a monster down your throat. The film is primal, it is unsettling and uncomfortable and it slowly builds up to where you genuinely feel terrified when the monster does physically manifest.
The Babdook is great storytelling, incredibly suspenseful and it provides the kind of scares that are incredibly rare in today’s films.
I don’t think this has a lot of replay value but it doesn’t need to. It packs an emotional punch and the true tenderness of the two characters relationship, despite the madness that develops, is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. The bond between the elderly neighbor and this family, when everyone else has written them off, is also beautiful. In the end, it is a film about loss, grieving, coming to grips with reality and most importantly, love.
The film is truly effective. It isn’t often that I feel a bit apprehensive about turning the light off at night after a horror movie.
It isn’t a picture that should appeal to modern horror audiences. It is a throwback, for sure. But maybe this is the start of a new trend and we are finally getting to a much needed horror renaissance.