Film Review – The Babadook

The Babadook (M)

Directed by: Jennifer Kent

Starring: Essie Davis, Daniel Henshall, Noah Wiseman

Four stars

Review by: Julian Wright

Single parenthood is a nightmare. Raising a child alone sounds daunting without the support of a partner, but when there are supernatural or threatening elements involved, it becomes a battle. Poor Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) had a rough time when her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) was possessed by the devil in The Exorcist and Lynn Sear (Toni Collette) was at her wit’s end when her son Cole (Haley Joel Osment) wouldn’t tell her that he sees dead people in The Sixth Sense.

The Babadook joins the ranks of horror films about single mums whose already stressful lives are thrown into turmoil – exponentially – when their creepy children start seeing or talking to ghosts or other worldly creatures. But not only is it a window into domesticity and the often headache inducing routine of rearing a chatty, naggy youngster, but also the intense effect of undealt with grief and the possibility of mental illness seeping in.

It has been seven years since Amelia’s  (Essie Davis) husband died on the way to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). She lives in the gloomy, rundown memory filled marital home with the energetic and attention seeking tyke who is beginning to show signs of ADHD. With a severe lack of sleep compounded with Samuel’s misbehaving, Amelia becomes increasingly stressed. On top of it all, Samuel wont stop going on about The Babadook, someone or something he is convinced is real and is trying to makes its way into their home.

Writer/director Jennifer Kent, who expanded upon her short film Monster, has created a realistic scenario that cuts close to the bone, refusing to shy away from the stresses of motherhood. Amelia takes out her frustrations on Samuel and just short of abusive acts, makes it quite clear that she holds much resentment towards him. It is such a dark area to delve into. Akin to killing a dog in film, having a parent hate their child is a huge no-no, yet The Babadook explores this taboo topic with stunning realism.

It’s fearlessness on the topic is what helps this film get under your skin (more so than the creaky floorboards and ominous knocks on the door it occasionally employs to induce chills) and make you fear for these characters when in danger, whether it is from The Babadook or from each other.  Or is the shadowy figure with the top hat and elongated nails just a metaphor for Amelia’s crippling guilt, resentment or creeping mental illness? There is much here to suggest that perhaps it is all in Amelia’s mind. Either way, it is a spine tingling presence.

On the surface, the last five minutes may look tacked on in the hopes for a shot at a sequel, but upon closer look, it ties together and solidifies the film’s themes and offers a much more satisfying psychological resolution. It is a perfect twist ending, one rarely seen in horror since The Sixth Sense.

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