Having to cope with being a single mom to her boisterous, unruly son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), Amelia (Essie Davis) is already on the verge of giving up. Her husband died in a freak accident on the day Samuel was born. For seven years, she had raised him up and has been giving him all the attention that she can give. One night, during one of their regular bedtime readings, Samuel picks a book that just suddenly appeared on the family shelf. It’s the story of Mister Babadook. Inside it’s red velvet covers is a pop up book that tells of a dark, top hat wearing creature. As they continue to read, the Babadook’s introduction gets creepier. Amelia decides to set the book aside for a more cheerful read. Little does she know that the promises from Mister Babadook’s book are slowly starting to creep into their lives.
Wiseman as Samuel perfectly depicts the stubborn, yet irresistibly lovable son. He completes the cruel irony in his and her mother’s life. One day he’s the rowdy kid, throwing wild tantrums. The next day, he’s the protector of the home. On the one side, he is the male ego – hostile, wanting, beastly and always wanting to be taken care of. On the other, he is the charming, protecting and amorous man of house. His unconventionality challenges other child characters in family horrors that we are used to. Sam’s shortcomings mark his unique characterisation that will be remembered for quite some time.
Davis brilliantly portrays a lost woman in her prime; a mother who is intentionally imprisoning herself to a life that could actually be better. As Amelia, she pushes all her good fortunes away; she’s still mindful of the tragedy from years before. Here, Davis is de-glamorized to a point that realism crawls out of the screen. With falling teeth, unruly hair, grinding jaws and misty eyes she depicts a once-clever woman now cursed with a spell that she alone can break. I particularly like the scene where the Babadook is about to take over her. The camera follows Amelia with excruciating leisure as she crawls away. Here, Kent dismisses the fancy horror score. With just the sounds of the Babadook’s crispy moans and Davis’ helpless cries, the scene already gets the sound it needs for an effective scare.
That’s what horror should be: distinct, character driven, solid, and painfully palpable.
The film develops slowly, while quietly pursuing a rising action. Kent delivers a film that resists the run-of-the-mill horror pace by moving her plot to a staggering rhythm. Despite this, it holds the audience on its grip. It builds on its characters instead of banking on cheap horror thrills and CGI-crap. Its monster, on the other hand, doesn’t need a justifiable cause to defend its terrifying presence. It doesn’t come with a backstory. The central characters’ history is already enough to juice the plot. Unlike Sadako and Kobayashi (or Lotus Feet for that matter), whose backstories stretch to almost epic proportions, the Babadook is just how it is: it’s just there, and the characters will just have live with it or fight it. And although it doesn’t show itself much, its horror still lingers like an ellipsis.
THE BABADOOK presents a nightmare both real and unreal. Its creature doesn’t just jumps on beds and opens doors, it also symbolizes the dark alleys of consciousness. It has a character who is doomed with a remembrance of a tragic memory, and letting go of such past could also be a terrifying process in itself. In one way or another, we create our own monsters. Through careful direction, it is a movie that delicately shows a truth about who we are and how we embrace our pains. And that despite the victories, there still would be lingering, disturbing denouements.
4.5 Stars out of 5!