The Babadook draws on the rich history of horror cinema, delivering thoughtful scares and strong imagery to create one of the finest genre films in recent years – even the mighty William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist came out and praised the film on its cinematic release. Jennifer Kent’s psychological horror (a feature length version of her 2005 short Monster) builds tension the old fashioned way by following strong characters as the supernatural aspects are drawn around them.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a widow bringing up her challenging young son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Things take an eerie turn when they discover The Babadook, a children’s pop-up book that features the titular Babadook. The character appears to spring from the pages and into their lives, turning their meagre existence into a living nightmare.
A psychological horror with a monster, The Babadook takes elements of many classic horror movies and weaves them into a contemporary modern drama. From silent classics like Nosferatu and The Cabinet Dr. Caligari by way of The Exorcist and The Shining to The Sixth Sense, The Babadook picks from the best, creating a well textured horror that doesn’t opt for cheap scares. What makes the film work is that Kent walks the fine line of keeping the horror elements realistic. It’s ambiguous as to whether The Babadook exists or if it’s simply down to Amelia’s mental state. Her transformation is similar to the one that Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance undergoes in The Shining and you can see her struggling to claw back her sanity as she loses her grip on reality.
Kent’s film is filled with claustrophobic paranoia and both Davis and Wiseman impress as the mother and son struggling to survive in a world that doesn’t seem to want them. The film is effectively a two-hander between the two of them and they do a great job showing how the characters unravel as the The Babadook begins to take over their lives.
The Babadook never goes for the easy option of throwing in cheap scares and Kent presumes that its audience is interested in unravelling the layers of the story on their own, rather than handing them easy pointers. It’s a well-rounded horror that has great visuals and good performances, something that puts it a cut above other films in the genre. It’s in a word and it’s in a look – you’d better check out The Babadook.