If it’s in a word. Or it’s in a look. You can’t get rid of … The Babadook
“The Babadook” is the well executed, provocative and tension filled, debut film from director and writer, Jennifer Kent. At the start of the film, Amelia is dreaming of a car accident, which claimed the life of her husband, Oskar (Benjamin Winspear). At the time of the accident, Oskar was driving her to the hospital, to give birth to their son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Amelia is convincingly portrayed by Essie Davis (The Matrix Revolutions), who embodies the character of the single parent attempting to do what is best for her son. The only reward she gets for her efforts is for her nerves to be constantly frayed. Amelia, who works days as a nurse at a retirement home, is still, almost seven years after the accident, grieving over the loss of her husband. She will not celebrate Samuel’s birthday on the actual day, nor does she want to talk about Oskar; not that she has many friends to vent to. Amelia’s social life, if it can be called one, consists of her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney), a friendly co-worker Robbie (Daniel Henshall) and her kindly, next-door-neighbor Mrs. Roach (Barbara West).
When it comes to her son Samuel, that is another matter. He is a troubled child, who always seems to be saying or doing the wrong thing at any given time. He is not only socially awkward, but has a very overactive imagination. Samuel constructs his own weapons to fight the monsters he fears are out to get him and his mother. His fear is at such a level that he takes to climbing into Amelia’s bed every night, so he doesn’t have to sleep alone in his room. This in turn, causes Amelia to have many sleepless nights. Samuel’s difficulties extend past his home life. The school he attends has had numerous problems with him, and has reached the point where a stern warning from Amelia to behave himself, will no longer be sufficient. Those in charge at the school wish to assign a monitor who will follow Samuel around throughout the day, not just as a way of preventing him from disrupting class, but also as a means to keep other students safe. Samuel has begun to bring his weapons to school. The suggestions on the part of the principal (Tony Mack) and Samuel’s teacher (Carmel Johnson), as to how best to help Samuel with his issues, results in Amelia withdrawing him from school.
The film’s ninety-three minute runtime is a blending of the genres of drama, horror and thriller. “The Babadook,” which is based on Kent’s 2005 short film “Monster,” originally premiered on January 17, 2014 at the Sundance Film Festival. After watching it, William Friedkin, the director of “The Exorcist” stated: “I’ve never seen a more terrifying film than “The Babadook.” (As an aside: The name Babadook was inspired by the word babaroga, which in the Serbian language means boogeyman).
One evening, before bed, Samuel wants his mother to read to him from one of his story books. A normal request, made by a child to a parent or guardian, however, the book he chooses, “Mister Babadook,” is anything, but a child’s normal pop-up book. In fact, neither Amelia nor Samuel, recall ever having seen the book before that evening. After a few pages, that don’t contain written words of menace, the book changes in tone, and informs the reader that the creature contained within its pages – Mister Babadook – once invited in, there is no escape from him. The book not only frightens Samuel, but also disturbs Amelia. Even though the Babadook is given minimal screen time, Kent makes excellent use of the book in order to help enhance a sense of anticipatory dread in the viewer’s imagination, as to when the creature will appear. (As an aside: Kent based the look of the Babadook on stills of the 1927 film “London After Midnight,” which starred Lon Chaney Sr., but remains a lost film).
In an attempt to distract Samuel from the sense of dreariness that seems to loom over their lives, Amelia takes him to his cousin Ruby’s (Chloe Hurn) birthday party. Ruby takes to teasing Samuel about his belief in the non-existent Babadook, as well as his not having a father. Samuel, stung by the remarks, pushes his cousin out of the tree house they are in, causing the breaking of her nose. After the incident, Amelia promptly leaves with Samuel. A short while later, he suffers a seizure. At the conclusion of the pediatrician’s examination of Samuel, he reports that there is nothing wrong with the child. Amelia, who is at wits end, begs the doctor to give her some medication to help Samuel sleep, which he does, but only as a temporary stop gap.
One day Amelia hears knocking on the door, to her shock, she discovers that the “Mister Babadook” book that she ripped up and threw in the trash, has been pieced back together and returned to her. If that weren’t bad enough, what notches up the scare factor of the re-emergence of the book, is that the writing inside of it has changed. The book now foretells that Amelia is going to wind up not only killing her dog, but hating her son to the point where her anger will drive her to kill him, and afterward take her own life. From that moment forward, unpleasant incidents begin to escalate, that, combined with Samuel’s erratic behavior, begin to take a drastic toll on Amelia’s ability to cope with such an overwhelming amount of stress. She is as at the point where she has allowed the entity from the story book to get so ingrained in her mind, that she begins to see the creature places that it clearly isn’t.
Those looking for a film with gore or jump scares will be disappointed. For those viewers who enjoy more of a psychological bent to their horror, then this is most definitely a film you will want to watch. Kent couldn’t have asked for better performances from her cast, especially Davis and Wiseman. She also makes excellent use of atmosphere and sound to help sell the scares.
Will the Babadook wind up destroying the lives of Amelia and Samuel? If he does, will the book pass on to the next unsuspecting child or parent and keep his vicious cycle going? Does Amelia preserve her maternal instinct despite overwhelming odds and protect Samuel against the creature? Will it be Samuel who saves the day, not only rescuing his mother, but vanquishing the evil presence from their lives? Can the Babadook be defeated? Kent provides the answers to those questions and more by the film’s conclusion.