Some of the best horror movies have tried to create visual symbolism and metaphor with their narratives. Australian horror film, and directorial debut of Jennifer Kent, The Babadook (2014) is no different as it attempts to take the grief and anger felt by a single mother who lost her husband in a car accident and manifest it into a frightening creature that haunts her household.
Essie Davis plays the grieving widow Amelia Vanek who struggles in raising her problem child Samuel all alone. One night Samuel, played by Noah Wiseman, requests a bedtime story. Amelia grabs The Babadook, which she assumes is a children’s novel and begins to read it. She quickly realizes that the book is a frightening warning to her claiming that she can’t escape the influence of this creature. Afterward the haunting begins as Amelia begins to notice a malevolent presence following her. The Babadook manages to be scary without relying on annoying staples of the modern horror genre. It creates tension through the plot, not through creepy music, and while it doesn’t contain a single jump scare it does manage to surprise and shock viewers. A remarkable aspect of the film is that it somehow instills a sense of courage in people, and might even convince people to face their fears head on. It is creepy, atmospheric and somehow inspiring all at the same time.
Pacing: 10 out 10
Like any great horror film, The Babadook knows how to handle escalation. The set up was expertly crafted and each scene coalesced into a climax that held our attention at all times. Every scene felt important and essential. It could not have handled its narrative any smoother.
Acting: 9 out of 10
The whole cast was solid but the focus clearly lies with Davis and Wiseman. The mother-son dynamic between them was done very well. Davis’s struggle as the mother is painful to watch, leaving audiences to feel pity and empathy for her plight. Her development as a character felt fluid, portraying her inner turmoil skillfully. Wiseman, on the other hand, comes across as very annoying, but given the character reactions to his unusual behavior it’s hard to argue that his portrayal wasn’t intentional. It’s refreshing to see good performances in a genre infamous for its stiff, paper-thin characters.
Content: 10 out of 10
Aside from a strong story the most important aspect of a horror film is the handling of the monster. The Babadook is slowly exposed to audiences in several creative ways that create a creepy atmosphere. The film creates a sense that this is a creature you cannot ignore, that is constantly lurking within reach. This makes the final confrontation all the more impactful and leads to a satisfying conclusion that leaves room for interpretation.
Overall: 9.5 out of 10
The Babadook is easily one of the most cleverly crafted horror films in recent years adding to the belief that the best horror movies are no longer made in America. The Babadook received honors from the likes of the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Empire Awards, and the AACTA Awards. It is a rare horror film that will frighten you with genuine effort as opposed to tired old mechanics that have plagued far too many inferior efforts in the genre.
– Zaid Al-Kazemi