If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
Words // Film Review by Clifton Wilder Koons II
While most films spend the majority of the first act merely setting up the story and revealing a bit of background information on the characters before wowing the audience with the promise of the premise, Jennifer Kent’s 2014 Australian horror film and Sundance hit, The Babadook, strategically introduces the characters, world, tone etc. while also giving the viewer the spine-tingling chills that the majority of modern horror films continue to fail to do without ever forcing the viewer to sit through thirty minutes of boring exposition and the characters’ mind-numbingly average day-to-day routine, which often lacks thrills of any kind. In fact, The Babadook took far less than 27 minutes to get this critic’s heart racing and wastes little to no time giving the viewer that eerie feeling of a thousand imaginary spiders creeping across the back of their neck.
In The Babadook, protagonist Amelia, a struggling single mother, and her son, Samuel, live far from normal lives even before one of the most horrifying boogeymen to ever appear on screen, Mister Babadook, unleashes hell inside their creepily dilapidated and darkly colored home. Like many children to varying degrees, Samuel believes that monsters live in his closet and lurk under his bed long before receiving the mysterious, pop-book aptly titled “Mister Babadook,” which reads more like a warning or a threat than an actual children’s book. Due to Samuel’s increasing fear of monsters, he spends most of his time creating makeshift weapons out of wood, nails, and even throwing darts as well as setting up a few booby-traps throughout the house, resulting in a refreshingly demented, horror twist on one of the common tropes often seen in successful kid flicks in the past like Home Alone or The Goonies.
Thus, when Samuel’s childhood fear becomes a reality, Amelia blames him for the Babadook’s mischievous attempts to wreak havoc on their already depressing life like when she finds bits of glass in her soup that nearly crack her teeth, making even the viewer question whether the boy or the Babadook did it. So Samuel takes action, giving him the chance to finally utilize his arsenal of makeshift weapons, resulting in one the most rewarding plant and payoffs that makes you almost want to cheer if you weren’t so incredibly horrified.
But what happens when the Babadook possess Amelia? How does a six-year-old boy fight a monster that’s using his own mother as a vessel to kill him? Now this may sound a little too similar to the hundreds of other horror films out there like The Shining or, more recently, James Wan’s 2013 film, The Conjuring, but in The Babadook, Samuel doesn’t have an axe-wielding mother or a team of ghost hunters to help him. No, he’s all alone.
In result, Kent keeps the story cemented in reality just enough to blur the lines between psychological horror and a drama about abusive parenting that would make Sally Field’s Sybil thankful, culminating in a tear-jerker of a climax that successfully exudes the film’s theme of the two leading characters’ mother-son relationship that leads to a bizarrely original ending that’s begging for a sequel.
Even when the Babadook and Samuel’s possessed mother take a break from chasing Sam throughout the house, Kent still manages to keep the viewer entertained with stunning visuals that keep you tense with anticipation as you await the next scene of sheer terror. For example, instead of simply showing Amelia going to bed and waking up in the morning, she floats down onto the bed in slow-motion, exhibiting the delight of finally getting some much needed rest while also adding to the chills, and even shows her sleeping throughout the night in fast-forward as she moves restlessly in her sleep like one of the demonic nurses in Silent Hill almost as if she’s bound to wake up at any second and embark on a killing spree.
It’s obvious that Kent spent a great deal of time planning and executing every single detail throughout the film with meticulous attention so that every second screams horror from the gloomy set designs to even the wardrobes, which all look eerily similar to the Babadook’s book that keeps popping up. The Babadook is truly a masterful work of art that separates itself so far from the vast majority of horror films out there today that all those filmmakers daring enough to compete should either adapt or simply give up because The Babadook has officially raised the bar to a whole new level of horror.