The Babadook (2014)

Babadook PosterWow. It has been a while since a movie has bowled me over the way THE BABADOOK has done.

This may seem like another drop in the ocean of praise that Jennifer Kent’s debut feature film is receiving now, but rest assured, I believe it is well deserved. This has elevated itself comfortably to my Best Horror Film of 2014, and when you see it, you’ll understand why.

Usually I rattle on Carl Kolchak style before launching into a synopsis of the movie I’m reviewing, but not this time. It doesn’t need it.

This is the story of Amelia (Essie Davis, MATRIX REVOLUTIONS), a widow who lost her husband Oskar (Benjamin Winspear) in a car accident while he was taking her to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). It’s now seven years later, and time has not healed her wounds: she spends her days working in a nursing home, and her nights dealing with a hyperactive, neurotic Samuel, who’s obsessed with stage magic, storybook monsters and building Goonies-style traps and weapons to defend them both from said threats. He’s a nice boy, but his anxieties and needs are wearing on Amelia.

B6And it’s obvious that, though she keeps all of her late husband’s possessions in the cellar and insists that she’s moved on, the reality is different. She has no social life apart from seeing her sister Claire (Hayley McElhinney) (who can’t bear to visit Amelia anymore because of the Byronic atmosphere hanging over the house) and her elderly neighbour Mrs Roach (Barbara West), and can’t even find intimate personal time in her bedroom without Samuel interrupting her, insisting that monsters are in his closet or under his bed.

B2Somewhere along the way, Samuel finds another storybook in the house, in the cellar where he’s forbidden to go. It’s a storybook called Mister Babadook. It seems an innocent little Doctor Seuss style tale at first, complete with pop-up figures on each page. But as she gets closer to the end, Amelia realises too late that it ends very horribly, and leaves the already-strung out Samuel absolutely terrified of the Babadook. Amelia puts the book away, but as one of the pages says, “If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook …”

B4Samuel’s behaviour deteriorates, as he brings weapons to school, prompting the defensive Amelia to remove her son rather than have him labelled problematic. While she tries to find an alternative educational placement, Amelia’s nerves begin to fray even more than they already are, as Samuel’s insistent terror that the Babadook, a shadowy, top-hatted, long-fingered Burtonesque spectre, is around, and trying to get them both. His behaviour, and her reaction to it, attracts the attention of social workers even as mother and son begin to alienate those still concerned about them.

Amelia’s psychological state deteriorates with every sleep-wrecked night, but she does do one sensible thing: she tears up the book and throws it away.Only to find it returned, patched up again – and with changes to it that suggest that she will do harm. Going to the police proves fruitless – especially as she sees the Babadook’s top hat and cloak at the police station. Increasingly isolated, she starts seeing the Babadook in old silent films on TV, on the roof of her car, in her neighbour’s house…

In an era where modern horror films seem to consist of a few jump scares that are given away in the trailer, THE BABADOOK stands apart as something a lot more unsettling. Less cheap shock and more a pervading discomfort and dread, it’s relentless and layered in a way that most other horror movies could only aspire to try. Jennifer Kent succeeds in adding allegory to what would otherwise be the sort of monster you’ve seen in a score of other, lesser movies.

B5But it’s not just Kent that excels here. The cast is uniformly excellent. Essie Davis can convey the exhaustion, frustration, grief, pain and anger of her character without saying a word (and when she does speak, it is with a taut authenticity, such as in a scene where she acerbically berates some women talking about ‘problems’, like not having time to get to the gym anymore).

B3Equally noteworthy is Noah Wiseman as Samuel, who takes a difficult role and makes it work. His character is at turns shrill and annoying and demanding, his anxieties wearing down his mother and potentially losing sympathy with the audience. And yet, this is exactly how a child in his situation would act. Real children can be as annoying and selfish and demanding as adults, but without the experience and maturity to cope with the unexpected. The two actors hold the scenes for the majority of the film, an onus they successfully manage to maintain.

The film has a beautiful look, too, courtesy of Polish cinematographer Radoslaw Ladczuk, offering landscapes of greys and blacks matching the look of the storybook (designed by acclaimed American illustrator Alexander Juhasz, who also helped design the look of the Babadook). And of course Kent provides a slow, steady tension without a hint of a shaky cam, a direction matched by her script, which offers its protagonist emotional depth and detail.

THE BABDOOK is an amazingly crafted movie, and the allegory behind it (which I won’t discuss, as it’s something that should be discovered by viewing it) adds a depth and significance that lifts it beyond mere entertainment. If I had any negative opinion towards it, it’s only the dread that the filmmaker might be tempted to do a sequel, something it definitely doesn’t need.

The movie is in the theatres in the UK now, and will be available on general release in the US and Canada November 28th. The trailer is below.

Deggsy’s Summary:

Director: Jennifer Kent (also writer)

Plot: 5 out of 5 stars

Gore: 1 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains

Reviewed by Deggsy.

16 Responses to “The Babadook (2014)”
  1. How did you feel about the ending? Other reviews I’ve read said they absolutely hated it, so much that it ruined their overall rating of it.


    • degggsy says:

      Did they really hate it? I thought the ending was both original, and perfectly in keeping with the allegory behind the Babadook, at least as how I interpreted it: some monsters can’t be annihilated, merely chained up. The fact that it didn’t have a pat ending with all the loose ends tied up was only a bonus in my estimation 🙂


      • Yeah, these reviews almost made me not want to watch it until I saw yours! Haha so thank you.


      • degggsy says:

        No, thank *you* for reading and commenting! They’re our bread and butter round these parts 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Deggsy! Thanks for the review of the Babadook. You included a drawing of the Babadook on the page though that is not part of the art of the film, I’m pretty sure it’s fan art. It seems to have attached itself to my name in Google search and I would like to amend this. I can offer a different image if you like, one that I made.


      • Hi Alexander – apologies for the mistake, I’ve removed the drawing from the article so that shouldn’t happen again. And I would like to compliment you directly on the look you created, and would be delighted to receive a correct image 🙂


  2. Beer Movie says:

    Great review. I love this one too. Definitely my favourite 2014 horror film and one of my top few films of any genre this year.


  3. Xenolicker says:

    So you don’t want a sequel? Not even when they call it “The BadaTWOok”!?


  4. Incredible movie. No doubt a Top pick for 2014, which has had a surprising amount of quality flicks hit the market (most being indie).


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