It’s been a long time since I regularly watched horror movies. Back in the nineties I would always catch the late night fright flicks on TV (Evil Dead, The Fog, The Shining, etc.), and would go and see the newer ones (Blair Witch, Ringu, etc) in the cinema, but with the advent of Saw, Hostel and the rapid descent of the genre into torture porn I lost interest. I enjoy my horror when it leaves more to the imagination, and less when it’s trying to outdo itself by showing ever more gruesomeness.
As a result, I haven’t seen too much recently, and what I have seen tends to fall squarely into the poking-fun-at-the-genre category, like the quite excellent (and decidedly unscary) Cabin in the Woods. I’m writing this so you know where I’m coming from in my review of The Babadook. If you’re looking for a Human Centipede type extravaganze in horrendousness, this is not for you.
So what is The Babadook then? The setup is classic horror. There is the large empty house, stifled with a sense of grief ever since father, Oskar, died in a car accident while taking his wife, Amelia, to the hospital to deliver their baby. There is the boy, Sam, now seven years old, who fears a monster skulking in the night and busily prepares lethal contraptions to smash it’s head in. And there is the sinister children’s book ‘Mr Babadook’ which in very cutesy sing-song rhyme tells you how you can never get rid of it once you let it in. Of course the book is indestructable, and no hiding or tearing it to pieces can get rid of it.
First time director Jennifer Kent expertly sets up this premise in the opening scenes and then slowly starts playing with the rules. Sam, at first comes across as the most irritating child you’ll ever meet, obsessed with his monster, prone to night terrors, not giving his exhausted mother a wink of sleep or moment of peace. But then Amelia, on the brink of a breakdown, starts to feel haunted herself, and becomes more dangerous than the Babadook itself.
The storyline keeps you guessing as to what this monster really is, and how it ties into the very real grief felt by the death of Oskar. Acting is extraordinary throughout and both Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as Sam show off an impressive range as they move between sanity and delusion.
The Babadook is that rare horror film that gets under your skin and refuses to leave. As the poster has it:
The Babadook – 2014, Australia – 1h 33m – by Jennifer Kent
These movies are available on the US version of Netflix at the time the post was written. As the catalogue changes often, and is not the same in each country, it might not be available where/when you are.