“You can’t get rid of the Babadook.”- Noah Wiseman as Samuel
Bottom line: In the modern horror genre full of cheap tricks and jumpy scares doubling as punch lines, “The Babadook” is sincere — in a terrifying kind of way.
Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is a chilling work of art that easily finds its way under the skin. Playing the role of writer as well, Kent’s complete vision of “The Babadook” is a prime example of how to make genuine horror while still utilizing the standard tropes of the genre.
Providing a subtle dose of intelligence to match the terror, Kent’s thrill ride pleasantly burrows its way into the psyche. The film’s mixture of brains and horror brawn gives it an obvious advantage over other wannabe fright fests.
“The Babadook” disturbs with ease, but the dreamlike atmosphere outside of the film’s eerie storybook horror quickly becomes a nightmare, and Kent’s ability to visualize the gradual change is captivating.
Amelia (Essie Davis) lost her husband in a car accident on the way to deliver her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and she’s still trying to cope several years later. As Samuel’s ever present fear of monsters escalates, Amelia has trouble finding any moment of peace. Samuel’s fear turns into violent reactions, and the friends they once had seem to be slipping away — throwing Amelia into a deeper state of anxiety.
Things get so bad for Amelia and Samuel that they can’t even read a simple children’s book at bedtime. They find a strange book within the house and read it before bed, but the feature character, the Babadook, hides in the shadows and only feeds Samuel’s fears. Amelia begins to sense a looming figure as well and attempts to destroy the book, but that only makes things worse for the two. The finale has yet to be written, and the simple book reading ignites Amelia’s psychosis, and The Babadook’s story can now be completed.
The terrifying elements of the film are both visual and literary. Amelia’s reading of the Babadook’s book is something I’ve simply never seen before. Samuel’s cringe worthy cries about what will happen to the child are almost background noise to Amelia’s fascination with the book’s disturbing content — frantically reading and flipping through the pages as if to find something more lighthearted.
If there are any modern horror doubters still remaining, “The Babadook” is a true inspiration for the genre, and a testament to what filmmakers are doing in the world of horror. In 93 minutes, Kent uses her grim artistic vision to tap into our childhood fears and the anxiety of adulthood as well.
Wiseman does so well “pretending” to see a terrifying figure it becomes hard to ignore him. His character’s constant violent outbreaks paired with his ongoing persistence to protect himself from the inevitable showdown with the Babadook is often humorous but obviously terrifying for his mother. Davis counters Wiseman’s character antics with a severe state of depression — one that only adds fuel to her psychotic flame.
“The Babadook” is easily my favorite horror film of the year, but that doesn’t do it justice when competing with a Purge sequel and “Annabelle.” Kent has developed a masterpiece, one that’s better than most horror films of this young century.
Fun fact: “William Friedkin, director of ‘The Exorcist,’ said “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than ‘The Babadook.'”
Run time: 93 min.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Rotten Tomatoes: 98 percent