Review: The Babadook is One of the Most Frightening Films in Years

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The Babadook - Gary Pullinfile_176269_0_shock-score-9“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” These are the words that jump off the page of the children’s book that Amelia reads and into her son’s brain, tormenting his thoughts and stealing his sleep. Sadly, he’s not alone. Even Amelia is bothered by the dark figure that smiles out from the storybook, with his crazed expression and long, sharp fingers. Aside from his appearance, what’s even more disturbing about this little novel titled “Mister Babadook” is how it came to be.

Perfectly placed upon the family book shelf, as if it had been there for years, it appeared one day, despite the fact that Amelia couldn’t remember purchasing it or receiving it as a gift from a friend. Even if it had been a gift, who would have given it to her? Amelia has been out of sorts and without a friend since the passing her of her husband, which was well over five years ago. The love of her life died driving Amelia to the hospital to give birth to their son, and she never really recovered. Getting through one day after the next is tough enough, but friends? Amelia can’t even bear to put her makeup on. So, if that’s the case, where did the book come from? Who wrote it? And, more importantly, why does this fictional character bother her so much?

More often than not, Hollywood wraps up death in a nice package with a pretty little bow on top. If one parent dies, the other parent does everything in his or her power to ease the child’s suffering. They are patient, they are understanding of their kid’s antics, and more than anything, they are nurturing, reminding the child that even if one parent is gone, they still have a strong authority figure to fall back on.

The Babadook offers no such comfort. In a much more raw, honest depiction of death, the film shows how Amelia can barely even stand to touch her son, almost like she blames him for causing her husband’s death. Because she was going into labor when her husband lost his life, Samuel’s birthday, a day that should be celebrated, offers only a painful reminder for the horrid event that took place. Like sand paused in an hourglass, Amelia seems trapped in time, immobile, and unable to cope. Her confusion and hatred has driven out and replaced her compassion, and it seems a little harder to relate to her own child every single day. Every early morning ray of sunshine that hits her windowpane reveals a figure in her bed that resembles Amelia a little less and less each day. Soon, there will be nothing left of her, only a scorned shell.

Essie Davis is an eruptive force as Amelia, the mourning mother who spirals slowly into madness. It’s incredible to watch her struggle to raise her son and keep her sanity at the same time; a relatable act, which takes a wicked turn for the worst. Davis doesn’t hold back, and the result is a phenomenal performance that’s not only terrifying, but very touching as well. Her ferocious descent into the darkest depths of depression is truly breathtaking, and all you can do is hold on for the ride. Daniel Henshall is terrific as well, as Amelia’s son Samuel. After watching dozens of movies with perfectly well behaved children, it’s refreshing to witness a take on childhood that’s more chaotic and vulnerable. This is especially true because any kid who loses their father at an early age is bound to have problems. Also, because Robbie such a heavy load to handle, it makes Amelia’s frustration all the more understandable.

The characters alone are enough to give this film a dark tone, but the imagery adds its own devious imprint. The charcoal house that serves as the main setting for Amelia and Samuel offers a cold, sharp insight into the emotions of everyone involved. Like a cross between German expressionist architecture and film noir, the lack of light offers little hope for anyone who dares to enter the lives of such atrophied people. The gothic visuals combined with the petrifying, well-mixed sounds of the Babadook creature and Davis’ unnerving performance create one of the most uncomfortable, incredibly frightening movies in years.

It’s hard to believe that this is Jennifer Kent’s first feature length film, and it shows just how much potential this Aussie director has for the future. I can’t wait to see what she releases next.