Arriving on a stunning wave of critical praise, expectations for Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook were undeniably raised. Boosting buzz that hailed it as the scariest film of the year, many came from far and wide looking for a good jolt of fear. Due to the insane level of hype the film no doubt divided the lot, but it was clear why The Babadook was given Toronto After Dark’s closing night slot. A wonderfully creepy tale filled with creativity galore, Kent’s film is reminiscent of those great ghost stories of yore.
The premise revolves around a single mother named Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Robbie (Daniel Henshall) who stumble upon a mysterious children’s book, a crimson covered tale called Mister Babadook. Baffled about how the book ended up in Robbie’s collection, Amelia ultimately agrees to give it a read as it was her son’s bedtime selection. Though the pop-up book is full of childlike rhyme, the tale at its core is one of crime. It is a story where death is guaranteed, with the Babadook wanting to be let in to do the deed. The menacing Babadook in the pop-up book plants seeds of fear in Robbie’s mind, which ultimately leaves Amelia in a bit of a bind. With Robbie living in constant fear, Amelia begins to lose the sleep she holds so dear.
As Robbie’s paranoia of monsters grows more volatile, Amelia herself begins to slowly fill with bile. Frustrated with living in a situation that not even her own sister understands, Amelia does all she can to best raise this wayward young man. However, strange occurrences begin to take shape in the house, including eerie noises that could not come from a small mouse. Amelia cannot help but wonder if it the Babadook is making her crazy, or if it is the lack of rest that is making her mind hazy?
Unlike these poorly written prose which are easy to mimic, Kent’s The Babadook relies on more than just practical gimmicks. The Babadook is such a unique and vibrant treat, thanks largely to the psychological horror that makes the film’s heart beat. The film is not just about the boogey man narrative at play, in fact, Kent’s film actually has something intelligent to say. A cautionary tale about overstressed parenting and the mental illness associated with it, the film’s biggest chills come from the short fuse that Amelia internally lit.
Parents will immediately identify with Amelia’s plight, it is apparent in her eyes that she is close to giving up the fight. Hearing “mommy” being constantly called from Robbie even before she gets out of bed; Amelia’s hardships will have many viewers who have been in that situation nodding their head. Essie Davis is fantastic in the lead, conveying both the unrelenting maternal instinct to protect and weariness of worn down steed.
In a genre that has been dominated by men of late, it is great to see such a talent female director like Jennifer Kent burst out of the gate. The creativity in her film practically pours off the screen, her use of colour and overall script are both bold and lean. Though the film’s final twenty minutes could have been tighter, these are minor quibbles as few debuts have shined brighter. The Babadook is an expertly constructed tale that will get even better with age. It is only a matter of time before chanting the creepy “Baba Dook! Dook! Dook!” becomes all the rage.