The Babadook

Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent

Released: 2014

It’s not everyday that a respected member of the horror community gives to following sort of praise to a film that is not their own: “I've never seen a more terrifying film than THE BABADOOK. It will scare the hell out of you as it did me” - William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and Bug. Needless to say, my expectations could not have been higher. Unfortunately, The Babadook did not meet these bloated standards. Let’s put the buzz aside and take a look at the film.

Amelia is a sleep deprived and frustrated single mother. Her seven year old son, Samuel, is disruptive and unruly and is terrified of the thought of monsters that lurk in the shadows as he drifts to sleep. Before bed, Sam picks a book from the shelf to read, one that Amelia does not recognize. The book is about the terrifying Mr. Babadook and is, indeed, quite terrifying.

Samuel is perhaps the most annoying on-screen child character that I’ve ever seen. While central to the plot, his persistent whining and talking...and mere presence is enough to wish the Babadook upon him. It’s either the case that this kid is an amazing actor or he is simply being himself. If the latter, then we should each be thankful that we’re not in Amelia’s position.

Putting the kid aside, we can now focus on what works. The use of a children’s book to introduce Mister Babadook adds much to an otherwise generic but creepy character. We usually associate innocence with children, so when this motif is turned on its head the result is thoroughly horrifying. Look no further than Ringu and The Omen for instances of how this works. I also couldn't let go of the feeling that Mister Babadook has some J-horror inspiration.

Essie Davis’ portrayal of Amelia is pretty damn spot on and does much of the work in selling the premise of the film. The rest is accomplished by genuinely interesting storytelling with a fair amount of depth.

While The Babadook falls short of its hype, it is a well executed and unique horror film that will make one question whether the bumps and thuds heard throughout the night are solely the result of inconsiderate, noisy neighbors.

Rating: 8/10

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