Despite its familiar elements, Babadook is a creepy yet strangely moving horror film backed by a well written screenplay, empathic narrative, and strong performances from its cast.
Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her ‘out of control’ 6 year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel’s dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called The Babadook turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he’s been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, and he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son’s behavior, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real. [IFC Films]
Babadook – which to me is an anagram of a bad book – is like one of those creepy German Gothic children’s books. It slowly unravels page by page to let you get acquainted with the characters and for the premise to sink in.
It has relatable well written characters fleshed out by spot on performances. Amelia is a single mom who is in dire need of a vacation in a secluded beach resort, but Essie Davis doesn’t make her character too mopey. Samuel is an annoying and clingy child that I wanted to chuck off a bridge (not that I would in real life), but Noah Wiseman showed that he’s just a boy who wants to protect his mum. Both clearly need therapy, but they’re doing what they can to thrive.
The cinematography and editing does a great job in presenting creepy imagery. Babadook puts its own spin on familiar tricks from the horror playbook, using shadow play, power of suggestion and a good old fashioned creepy score.
The result is a scary yet emphatic horror movie. If you’re not scared of the Babadook, you’re terrified for its characters. At the same time, its subtle ambiguity makes you aware that there is another side to this story.
While these features separate it from the rest of its peers, its not for audiences who prefer horror movies like Ouija (which managed to be a box office success despite its B-grade quality). It doesn’t have chase scenes, shaky cameras, jump scares and exposition heavy dialogue to spoon feed them.
Babadook also has conventional elements that doesn’t exactly make it a groundbreaking film. Tragic back stories, creepy tales and questionable subjects are not new in psychological horrors.
Still, that doesn’t really matter much. When you reach the last page, you wonder about its characters, the thing, and that tingling unsettling feeling at the back of your spine when the lights are off. Most importantly, the moral lesson that hangs over your head.
Babadook shows us that what’s really scary are the demons we can’t easily vanquish and can only bury, then we’re left to carry them for the rest of our lives.
My Rating: 9/10
Image from Reddit