director Jennifer Kent
Original, strange, and cleverly creepy, The Babadook is probably one of the better and more interesting horror films of the year, maybe of some while. The first feature film from Aussie director Jennifer Kent is a tale of a widowed suburban mother and her weird, semi-psychotic seven year old son. And their evil shadow fiend, the Babadook.
The film has been building a head of steam on the “best of” lists for this year, even garnering a comment from The Excorcist (1973) director William Friedkin’s comment that The Babadook is the scariest film that he’d ever seen. And that is great. Seriously, it’s all great. But hype and overhype can spoil a film viewing.
I watched The Babadook on Amazon streaming, the first film that was still in theaters that I’ve paid for like this. And I watched it with my kids, with whom I’d viewed the trailer for the film. My son, Felix, was particularly keen to see the movie. And it was playing in town but across town at an inconvenient time slot. I was a tad chagrined to do this as I don’t personally like to add to the hastening of the death of the movie theater, but circumstance is what circumstance is.
Widowed mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her odd son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are going through a time. Her husband died in a car accident at the time of Samuel’s birth and the boy has nightmares and builds contraption weapons to fend off his “imaginary” demons. Only when a new storybook shows up on the shelf, “The Babadook” pop-up book (gonna be a best seller this Xmas, I tell you!), the imaginary becomes harder to distinguish from the real and the shadow figure boogeyman seems to have entered their house and hearts.
It’s certainly one of those metaphors for psychological dissonance that some fantastical horror embodies. Is it the boy’s psychosis or the mother’s? Or a shared psychosis? Or is the Babadook a real thing?
The film’s real darkness is in its psychological horror, the isolation of mother and son from friends, family and society as distress and terror set in. Like a lot of real, non-metaphorical psychological stressors and troubles, family services, friends, neighbors and loved ones are shut out or shut one out, that which should help you only further distances you, and whatever darkness there is exacerbates.
I think my kids enjoyed the movie. I think it scared them a bit. But I also think that they are a bit more literal in their interpretation, so the more metaphorical and psychological a horror, the more it might go over their heads.
Me, I think the film is very good and promising. Probably like a lot of people, I look forward to what Jennifer Kent brings next to the screen. Unlike William Friedkin, I don’t think it’s the scariest film I’ve ever seen, maybe not even the scariest film of the year. But it’s interesting, original, and well-done and certainly worth seeing. Maybe that’s not the endorsement that they’d be looking for, but hopefully it’s one that will not give you too much expectation to overcome if you do see it.