Film Review: 'The Babadook'

★★★★☆
Since Australian director Jennifer Kent’s debut feature, The Babadook (2014) premièred at this year's Sundance Film Festival there has been a tremendous hubbub of excitement from both critical and horror circles . Much like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) before it The Babadook, appropriates the trappings of the horror genre and employs them in a terrifying exploration of the psychological scarring a fractured parental bond can cause. Widow Amelia (Essie Davis) is struggling to cope with the demands of her young unhinged son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who, like many young boys his age, possesses an unhealthy obsession with monsters, magic and making weapons out of household utensils.

Dragged down by her taxing job in a nursing home, and still reeling from the death of her partner, Amelia finds herself constantly exhausted by the demands of her increasingly erratic child. One day, out of nowhere, an eerie, black-bound pop-up book appears. Inside is the story of the Babadook - a terrifying nightmare creature, with a permanent grin, elongated fingers, mad-glaring eyes, and a top hat. We delve into a cardboard cutout world, in what is a haunting and mesmeric animation-sequence that recounts the mysterious demon's legend. A demon who once invited into your home will never leave. The world Amelia and Samuel inhabit becomes a strange, plaid, washed out place, full of muted hues and drab greys, giving production designer Alex Holmes ample opportunity to demonstrate his skills.

Kent fills the world of The Babadook with macabre whimsy, like a strange amalgamation of Tim Burton by way of Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The house groans at night, with a terrifying “chook, chook, chook,” that signals the Babadook lingering outside every doorway. Kent's careful attention to the film's sound design is a masterstroke, building a palpable sense of fear comparable (but not on par) with Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio. However, It's not merely Kent's careful attention to detail that makes The Babadook such an entertaining watch and her examination of a grief-stricken woman who finds herself emotional conflicted in her role as a mother runs deeper than puerile scares. Whilst Amelia wants to love her little boy the loneliness and isolation of being a single parent makes her resentful.

The ever-looming Babadook, which can easily be read as a psychological manifestation of these negative emotions, only enhances the continual sense of threat that surrounds the mother and her son. Essie Davis dexterously navigates this complex role, offering up a bloodcurdling performance, evolving from troubled suburban mom into a gaunt, waif-like figure of murderous intent. The Babadook breaks down boundaries of what the horror genre has to offer and has raised the bar considerably. A considerate, weird, lingering psychological horror, The Babadook is a must-watch this Halloween.

Joe Walsh

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