Director – Jennifer Kent
Cast – Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Tim Purcell, Barbara West
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
This low-budget Australian film has made waves across the genre since its Sundance debut in January of this year, and after much waiting it is finally available to the masses. Filmed on a very low budget that included crowd-funding via Kickstarter, Jennifer Kent’s (yes, a woman) debut horror film is this year’s greatest genre accomplishment. The Babadook excels in ways that 90% of other horror films do not – it legitimately scares the viewer. Refusing to rely on gore and cheap jump scares, this experience left me goosebump-riddled and in awe over what should be one of the genre’s spookiest antagonists.
Amelia, a single mother widowed after the violent death of her husband 6 years prior, has her hands full with her out of control son, Robbie. When he is not building makeshift weapons to fight monsters he is getting into serious trouble at school, but such antics become the least of Amelia’s worries when her son comes across a mysterious book titled “The Babadook”. As if things were not hectic enough, Robbie’s negative behavior grows in severity now that he believes The Babadook is lurking within their house. Robbie has pushed Amelia to her wit’s end, and little does she know…he’s telling the truth.
Jennifer Kent begins her story by setting us into the life that Amelia is forced to live. We learn right away that she lost her husband when he suffered an automobile accident while driving her to the hospital go give birth to their son Samuel. Since then, Amelia has remained a lonely soul with a dead-end job and a son who is an ever-growing problem in more ways than one. Soon enough the book turns up and Samuel’s insistence that The Babadook is real only increases the severity of the trouble he causes. With her life a wreck, Amelia is now susceptible to the demon’s (or whatever he is) influence, and 26 minutes into the film we get our first decent taste of horror. We continue to see the horror surface very 10 minutes or so, and it grows in intensity until you hear The Babadook speak and find yourself covered in goosebumps. After this the story took a turn that I was not expecting, focusing more on Amelia’s inner demons and not as much on the demon/Babadook itself, but that is not a complaint on my end. At the end of the film you will learn that the shift on focus was not really a shift in focus after all, as this is a story that deals with the consequences of living a life of grief and never recovering from it. I don’t want to go too into detail because it is possible that I could ruin some of the surprise and the payoff at the end of the film. If anything, just know that this story is so much more than the typical haunted house effort. It is a breath of fresh air.
Kent’s story is what makes this a unique watch, and it is her direction that makes it a scary one. She sucks us into her story early on by giving us a full-frontal take on what it is like to live in Amelia’s shoes. We are forced to deal with Samuel’s tantrums as well, and I guarantee that you will hate him as much as I did – which is exactly what Kent wanted. When the horror hits we are treated to simple spooks here and there, but at the 49 minute mark when we hear the Babadook’s voice I guarantee you I had goosebumps going up my legs – a rare occurrence reserved for the scariest of films. His voice was so simple yet highly effective and definitely my favorite moment of the film. There are other scares of equal quality, but given I watched this with my Sennheiser headphones his voice filled the perceived space around me as if he was actually there (hell…maybe he was). Kent’s atmosphere helped make these scares as great as they were, employing dark shadows and a spooky home that will prepare you for the scares that you won’t be able to beat.
Overall, The Babadook is an incredible accomplishment for Jennifer Kent and probably the best 2014 horror film I have seen so far.