Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook deals with the heaviness of a widowed mother raising her young son and throws in a horror flick to boot. This low budget Australian import announces a new director in Kent who holds tremendous premise. She knows her way about the genre and how to provide some spine tingling moments with her direction and in the screenplay.
Amelia (Essie Davis) has one 6 year old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). On the date of his birth, her father was killed driving her to the hospital. To her relatives, neighbors and coworkers, she tries to pretend like everything’s fine. In reality, she can’t even speak her late husband’s name or have anything resembling a conversation about him. That’s not her only family issue. Samuel is a very troubled child whose disruptive behavior gets him kicked out of school. Quite literally, Samuel won’t let his mom have even a moment’s pleasure. He builds weapons to fight imaginary monsters. Yet as we all know in these types of films, maybe these darn kids know a little more about what’s really going on than the adults.
This is when Amelia comes across a graphic and ominous kids book called Mister Babadook, featuring a character who wishes to inflict harm on them. The concept is familiar – once you read about Babadook, you can’t get rid of him. From that moment on, The Babadook follows the playbook of the scores of demonic possession pics before it.
While there’s really nothing truly new going on here, there’s enough positives in Kent’s debut to satisfy horror enthusiasts. For starters, Davis gives a remarkable performance that must consistently shift between concerned and sleep deprived mother and, well, something else. Wiseman certainly acquits himself well and is highly believable as a freaked out youngster. The Babadook is as much about Amelia’s strange journey to confront her undealt with sorrow over her loss than anything else. It just takes a sinister children’s book psycho to deal with it.
*** (out of four)