THE BABADOOK **** Australia 2014 Dir: Jennifer Kent. 93 mins
Widowed young mother Essie Davis has a hyperactive six year old son (Daniel Henshall) with a wild imagination and a tendency for alarming fits. He becomes insistent that the “Babadook”, a black-clad malevolent figure from a childrens’ book, is out to get them, seeing the character and hearing traces of its existence in and out of their house. As Davis’ sleep deprivation and stress levels increase, everything the mother and son experience might merely be figments of their distorted imagination. At the heart of this understated but powerful movie are boldly unsympathetic portraits of a highly troubled young boy and the devoted mother pushed to the brink by his erratic behaviour. The “Babadook”, snaking its way into a judicious number of scenes and shots, resembles a forgotten, malevolent character from silent horror cinema, and writer-director Kent wisely restricts its appearances. Her cinematic influences are emphasised via the use of TV clips from Mario Bava’s BLACK SABBATH and the Lon Chaney PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. It’s as much intense psychological drama as it is horror film, but Davis’ tour-de-force portrayal of one woman’s breakdown helps capture the mundane horror of everyday domestic life with or without the story’s ambiguous supernatural elements. Although genuinely creepy in all the right moments, its vivid portrayal of childhood fears of monsters is outshone by its uncomfortably believable depiction of our primal parental fears of our own kids harming either us or themselves.
Review by Steven West