“Ba BA-ba DOOK! DOOK! DOOK!” Mr. Babadook whispered.
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If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of it; that’s how The Babadook describes itself. The director Jennifer Kent, upon the expansion of her own short-horror titled Monster into The Babadook funded by Kickstarter, reimagines an old universal fairytale about a boogeyman into a real horror that scares with emotion and nuance, with unique story telling and family issues, as this movie digs into audiences’ deeper and more sentimental fear.
This is quite a synopsis of The Babadook I can convey: six year after his husband’s death, Amelia (Essie Davis)—now a single mother and a nurse—is still mourning. She finds it hard to live normally as well as to disciple her mentally unstable 6-year-old son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). When a pop-up storybook titled “The Babadook” suddenly appears in the house and Samuel starts to hallucinate about a monster/boogeyman called Mr. Babadook plaguing him, Amelia also starts to get frightened of her son’s abnormal behavior. Things get worse when Amelia finally realizes that a sinister presence of evil really lurks in her surroundings and drags her to the sorrow. The premise really sounds like a generic and worn-off horror plot, it does. However, this Australian horror never takes the genre into banality at all.
The Babadook, along the whole 93 minuter, never tries to scare you with cheap tricks like jump scares scenes or startling over-scored scenes; even the creature is not as creepy as any ghouls from any horror. Instead, it relies on the horror itself—the eerie, insecure feeling of being plagued by something sinister we associates to the boogeyman—and the sentimental maternal-filial chemistry. The movie doesn’t need Mr. Babadook get abundance of screentime trying to scare the audiences; it boosts eeriness by putting more flames to the mother-son behavior, as the lonely mother gets too depressed and the mentally unstable son gets too psychosis of what he’s fearing of. Simply saying, the real horror in The Babadook is presented through the underlying family drama, in which the feeling of grief and loss of a husband/father plays significant roles.
The movie—through its low-key scores and lo-fi pictures—has a prone to make the audiences puzzled whether Mr. Babadook really exists, or it’s only a manifestation of either mentally unstable Samuel or over-depressed Amelia. The Babadook never makes it clear and never attempts to present a resolution. Director Jennifer Kent just makes things more sour with unnerving images and creepy footage of classic movies in the midnight to vivify the grievous atmosphere of a house of two, without a figure of a protector, within a catastrophic period.
For those horror aficionados who love to get scared with jump scares and filthy apparitions of the spiritual beings, The Babadook might be disappointing. Yet, it’s a delightful experiences for those who long for the atmospheric horror with some touches of drama. If it’s in a word or it’s in a look, it’s difficult to get rid of The Babadook as one of the best horror flicks this year.
The Babadook (2014)
Horror, Drama, Psychological Thriller Written & Directed by: Jennifer Kent Starred by: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall Running Time: 93 mins Unrated