“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of … The Babadook.”
When William Friedkin claimed that he had never seen a more terrifying film than The Babadook, I was certain that I needed to see this. I’m not a huge horror fan, but I was pleasantly surprised with 2013’s The Conjuring, so I went into this with high expectations knowing there is hope for the genre. The film didn’t disappoint despite never actually being scary. I don’t think that director, Jennifer Kent, was interested in scaring her audience, but rather in creating an uneasy atmosphere that would keep us engaged. She succeeded because while I was watching The Babadook I couldn’t help but compare it to some other horror classics like Kubrick’s The Shining and Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby. Kent spends time in creating an unsettling atmosphere with some annoying characters and isn’t interested in creating jump scares like so many horror films tend to do nowadays. The Babadook takes its time to build the right atmosphere and you are rewarded with your patience during the final third act. It is more of a psychological horror film than a graphically violent one. It is almost as if you are watching a dark drama at times. There is more to this film than simply scaring the audience and once the film is over you’ll realize that there is meaning behind the narrative. It sort of plays out as a metaphor exploring interesting ideas which I wouldn’t want to get into because it would involve spoiling some aspects of the film, but it is clear that there is a surreal undercurrent to the film which effectively says something about the way we deal with grief and parenting. Jennifer Kent’s first feature film was a breath of fresh air in the horror department while feeling as a classic at the same time. She will be a director whose work I will be looking forward to in the future. Her screenplay was also smartly written and I know that audiences will benefit from a rewatch because there is a meaning behind everything that is going on. There is an interesting undertone to this film which will only build its reputation over time. If you just look at this film as a monster film you will be disappointed because it has a different agenda.
Building a creepy atmosphere isn’t enough for a horror film to succeed; you need characters you can engage with. I know that some of the complaints with this film had to do with the fact that the characters were all annoying and that made it hard to engage with, but in my opinion it worked perfectly for what it was trying to do. Essie Davis gives one of the best performances of the year and was a big part of why the creepy atmosphere worked so well. She plays a grieving mother who lost her husband on the day her first son was born. Her son is a problematic and hyperactive kid who is constantly giving her mother grief. He keeps on repeating that there are monsters in the house and always gets in trouble in school for his odd behavior. He’s played brilliantly by Noah Wiseman and he effectively gets on the audience’s nerves as well. Her mother doesn’t really know how to handle him and when they come across a strange book named The Babadook weird strange begin to happen in the house. Essie Davis’s character looks incredibly stressed throughout the film and her physical transformation is incredible. Noah Wiseman is one of those rare child actors who actually makes his character feel authentic and believable even when he is throwing tantrums and fits. I was impressed by the performances in this low budget film and they only add to an incredible tense and unsettling atmosphere. I was never scarred by this film, but I did feel uneasy and I also loved what it was trying to communicate. The Babadook is one of those films you should see now before Hollywood comes up with a terrible remake and ruins it. I hope it also marks a change of pace in the way horror films should be approached from now on.