A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Running Time: 1hr 33min
MPAA Rating: NR
The Babadook won’t leave you alone: review
by Peter Howell
The Babadook is anything but children’s entertainment, even though the film features a bothered young lad, a top-hatted home invader and a scary story that emanates from a pop-up book.
“If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”
This sounds like a line and a narrative from a Dr. Seuss book, something akin to the pesky feline visitor from The Cat in the Hat.
Yet The Babadook is anything but children’s entertainment, even though the film features a bothered young lad, a top-hatted home invader and a story that emanates from a pop-up book.
This simple yet shiver-inducing tale, the auspicious feature debut of Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent, makes for one of the better horror movies of recent times. It’s taken a surprisingly long 14 months for it to begin a Toronto theatrical run following its Sundance 2014 premiere.
With minimal recourse to blood, CGI or jump scares, The Babadook achieves maximum terror. The filminhabits the brain as surely as the title demon subsumes the humble home and lives of widowed single mom Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman).
Six going on seven, Sam was born into tragedy. He arrived the night his father died, in a car accident while dad was driving mom to the maternity hospital. Sam and Amelia have yet to fully surface from beneath the waves of sadness.
Sam struggles with “significant behavioural problems” — that’s what the school principal calls the boy’s classroom disruptions — and also with frequent nightmares about monsters.
Amelia tries to calm her son, and also to bring cheer to dementia patients at the seniors’ residence where she works. But personal happiness eludes her, as her scornful sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney) callously observes.
Frazzled of hair and guarded of expression, Amelia does seem to be carrying a larger-than-usual share of life’s burdens — which are suddenly about to get a lot heavier.
A mysterious book titled Mister Babadook shows up at home one night, just in time for bedtime reading. It contains threatening cartoon images of a fanged and clawed creature, dressed in dark hat and cape, that seems all too real.
A spectral demon tormenting a family is far from a novel horror concept, but The Babadook taps deeply into the subconscious parental fear that something terrible lurks in wait for a beloved child.
But what exactly is this terrible thing, the Babadook? Could Amelia and Sam be conjuring it out of their grief? The usual assurances from disbelieving adults are there: “It’s just a book. It can’t hurt you.”
Kent carefully doles out clues, more through images than words. She makes us doubt our own senses as Amelia slips into a half-alert state between fitful sleep and random TV viewing (Skippy the Bush Kangaroo has never seemed so ominous).
Resourceful Sam sets out to protect himself and his mother with homemade weapons, including a backpack contraption that looks a bit like a Ghostbusters proton pack.
So often in horror movies, the terror is the result of sexual frolics, arrogant misdeeds or foolish decisions by the eventual victims.
But the real frights come when the innocent are targeted, as in the psycho-horror antecedents Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining, which are among Kent’s many influences.
She inhabits these influences, just like the Babadook inhabits his victims. But this is one haunting you can’t get rid of, nor would you want to.