Like a beautiful, dark-angel burning away the premonition that the genre is dying, standing tall above a sea of over-budgeted yet underperforming witless torture porn and jump-scare tat; The Babadook is more than just scary, it’s horror. True horror.
So what constitutes a horror film? In my opinion, horror movies should instil a sense of dread or angst that we can feel rising so much so that we, the audience, just for an instant contemplate having to leave before it becomes over-whelming. If I don’t get that hit, that “Thank God this is Netflix and pausable”, then it just isn’t horror. I felt it several times recently during Under the Skin and I’ll never forget the hair-raising elation of Max Schreck/Klaus Kinski looming over their respective Harker interpretations or just about any time Michael Myers bursts into shot in Halloween.
As alluded to then, The Babadook strikes these notes cleanly without rushing or dragging (Whiplash reference) and comes together as a really solid piece. The story is relatively straight-forward; Australian actors Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman play mother and son Amelia and Samuel. We’re shown through flash-back and dialogue sequences that the father of the family died in a car accident whilst driving to the hospital for Samuel’s birth, an event Amelia subconsciously and unfairly partially blames Sam for. On the days approaching Sam’s 7th birthday, or the 7th anniversary of her husband’s death, Amelia reads an unexpected bedtime story to her energetic, apparently odd-ball son; a story called The Babadook and unfortunately tumbles into a world of paranoia and grief.
Set in modern Australia, yet looking like dreary suburban England, we watch as Amelia shrinks away from society and into her mind in a similar fashion to Ellen Burstyn’s character in Requiem for a Dream. Amelia is a carer for the elderly by day too, something known to be incredibly emotionally draining, so we feel for her even more when her sister can’t relate to her or help her and Sam’s outbursts at school escalate her stress and initiate a bout of insomnia.
The film’s scariest moments are at night as Amelia and Sam are stalked from the inside and out by what I can only describe as grief personified. On almost every establishing shot of the large, melancholic blue decorated house (Top marks – set design crew) the light reduces just a hair to accentuate night’s imminence, like a yawn or shuddering of the eye-lids hinted at falling asleep in Nightmare on Elm Street. Close-ups are used sparingly and instead shadow is used masterfully not just to fleetingly reveal our monster (and fully reveal it, RIP my boxers) in classic horror fashion but also to showcase Amelia’s transformation as she releases 7 years of bottled up grief.
The performances are great, Noah Wiseman is definitely one to watch for the future, director Jennifer Kent pushes him into creating a loving child struggling with life without a father figure whilst trying to survive around a psychotic mother. A scene where he cowers against a dresser is so distressing it could quite easily be cut-pasted into an NSPCC charity ad.
The Babadook is an original, well-written and truly scary Australian film. If you’re a fan of Horror I’d definitely recommend it as it honestly will stick with you. Anyway, I’m off to watch Ouija again, fucking love that film, can’t believe the Oscar snub.