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Australia 2014
Directed by
Jennifer Kent
92 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Babadook, The

Synopsis: Single mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), whose husband died in a car accident on the day of their only child’s birth, is struggling to cope with the latter, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), now a hyper-active six-year-old. Samuel is given to imagining all sorts of monsters threatening their shared world and when a storybook called The Babadook appears on his bookshelf his over-stimulated imagination spirals out of control. Initially Amelia tries to medicate Samuel out of his fantasies but gradually she begins to wonder if they are not real.

Watching  this film you start to wonder what is it about South Australia, the home state of The Babadook, and of the harrowing 2011 film, Snowtown, that it is so drawn to fear and loathing in the everyday. Although The Babadook, a first feature for sometime actress Jennifer Kent who developed it from her own 2005 short, Monster, is a complete fiction, part psychological study, part Gothic horror, it is both literally and metaphorically a very dark film.

The first part is rather heavy going as Kent establishes Amelia’s circumstances which include not just an extremely difficult child but the sorrow of the death of her young husband. Her sister, Claire (Hayley McElhinney), is unsupportive and her job in an aged care facility (in a questionable casting choice Snowtown’s Daniel Henshall plays a sweet co-worker) does nothing to relieve her emotional and physical loneliness. Single parenthood is a hard road but with a child like Samuel it borders on a living hell. In this regard Kent gets a marvellous performance from young Noah Wiseman and there will be few who will not wish that Amelia would throttle the little bastard.

If the first section of the film predominantly adheres to a psychologically realistic approach, when Amelia starts to lose her grip on her situation the Gothic aspect kicks in with creaking doors and things going bump in the night (the form of The Babadook owes much to F.W. Murnau's classic horror film Nosferatu), climaxing in a knee-trembling Exorcist-style set-piece with exploding light fittings, splitting walls, a demonic manifestation, a big kitchen knife and an awesome upchuck of black bile.

There is somewhat of an incongruity between the two styles. Thus, when initially we are empathizing with Amelia’s real struggles to manage Samuel’s ghoulish imagination we can’t help but wonder why both she and her son have black bedding and the house interior is painted in charcoal grey and black with a near-Calvinistic approach to furnishings. Hardly the kind of décor to cheer one up. This inconsistency also affects the film’s ending as it attempts to bring closure to what we have witnessed, Kent sequentially suggesting variously, a return to normality, descent into complete madness, and/or supernatural occupation. Personally I would have ended the film on what is the penultimate scene,

Notwithstanding its lack of a truly satisfying handling of the age-old truth/illusion divide, The Babadook is an impressive achievement, a refreshingly different and intelligent film that brilliantly transcends its modest means and is blessed with exceptional performances from the two leads. The end result is that you are fully drawn into Amelia's nightmare, surely the aim of all good horror. Even if you’re a bed-wetter, you really should see The Babadook.




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