Twitter Plot Summary: A mother and her young son are terrorised by a spectral menace pulled from the pages of a creepy children’s book.
“If it’s in a word, or if it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook.” It’s with these innocuous words from a mysterious children’s story book that perhaps this year’s best horror film introduces us to one of the genre’s creepiest spectres. Coming from the Antipodean shores, The Babadook is a simple story of a mother and her son, Amelia and Samuel, as a the titular Babadook appears and threatens to kill them both.
It seems that in The Babadook we have returned to a style of horror film that was once thought lost, and it oozes style and subtext in every frame, every choice of shot, every aspect of the performances. Some elements are left disconcertingly vague, but this can be attributed to the dreamlike style applied by writer and director Jennifer Kent.
It carries a sense of unease, the feeling of the unfamiliar in a familiar setting. In this respect it’s much like genre classic The Wicker Man, which itself carried a sense of foreboding that built to a shocking finale. The final act of The Babadook is perhaps less defined and impactful as The Wicker Man, but the rest of the film clearly shares similar DNA in terms of its structure and fear of The Other – that which is strange and/or different. The colour palette adds to this sense of unease, everything bathed in a swathe of blacks, greys and browns – even the eyes and eyebags of the police officer Amelia speaks to.
The Babadook is a well-realised spectral menace, prone to appearing when you least expect it and never fully emerging from the shadows – all the more powerful as a concept rather than appearing as a visible killer. The conceit that he draws more power the more you deny his existence is a strong one, and creates its own fair share of potential nightmares for the audience. The top hat and clawed fingers, beautifully realised as if from a child’s mind, seal the deal.
And this is all perfectly balanced with an astounding performance from Essie Davis as Amelia, and the initially irritating Noah Wiseman as Samuel. Their relationship is well defined and makes The Babadook’s threat all the more chilling as his powers increase. The Babadook itself is a clear metaphor for the sorrow of loss, the helplessness that follows an unexpected death, even if he does show up nearly a decade after said events. Amelia is emotionally scarred following the death of her husband, and much of her resentment for his death is aimed at Samuel simply because the accident that took her husband away occurred on their way to the hospital. Amelia is simultaneously loathe to fully embrace her son, yet is pushed by her maternal instincts to look after him and give him the best possible start in life. This is not helped through Samuel’s antisocial behaviour, a troublesome child when we first meet him yet slowly developing into the innocent child he really is.
It’s a tour de force of how a horror film should be structured, and is a more than pleasant antidote to the James Wan approach of quiet moments followed by a loud noise. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be lazy with your scares in order to be effective, and there is still a lot of scope within the genre for doing some new and, if not original, at the very least innovative.