The Babadook Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)



Do you remember hearing your first ghost story? Or watching your first “scary” movie? It probably happened when you were very young and it stuck with you for quite some time. Every creak you’d hear at night, every unknown noise may have made you pull those blankets a little further up to your head, if not over. Children are quite influenced quite easily and mostly effortless to scare, but what happens when your child may be telling the truth that a ghost-like entity may be present? Such is the case with the latest film, The Babadook.

Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother who works long hours as an aide at a senior living facility and continues to dream of her departed husband. He was killed in a car accident as he was driving her to the hospital to give birth to their son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), seven years prior. To go along with her inability to cope and her hectic work schedule, Samuel is a handful himself; he doesn’t have many friends of his own and fantasizes about his father being around as a pretend male figure in his life. One night before bed, Samuel asks Amelia to read a mysterious pop-up book called Mister Babadook. The story is about a supernatural being that cannot be sent away once his presence is made known. Soon, strange things start happening around the home and Samuel blames them on the Babadook. Amelia goes to all lengths to control Samuel and prove that the Babadook isn’t real, but is it really just a child’s imagination or is there really something supernatural now in their home?

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What first-time director Jennifer Kent gets right is to not focus on the scares, but to allow the story and the thought of what is actually going on drive the movie. We are made well aware of the state of Amelia from the beginning, and her downward spiral throughout the film is reminiscent of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. To play off her downward spiral is Samuel who has to become a form of adult, to become a man to look after and protect his mother just as his father would do. The atmosphere of the settings greatly adds to this dimension of creepiness and psychological fear. While the home seems quaint to begin, the colors used – greys and blues – add to this murkiness, which only heightens the tension. And when things start happening, which eventually can’t be explained with rationalization, the film takes another turn to a deeper level of fear, one of which many horror films strive for but never get close to hitting. Kent brilliantly utilizes the settings, cinematography, and our own fears we’ve all developed since childhood to create a mood of true panic that will leave you questioning the ideas of what is real and what isn’t after you leave the theater.

Settings and cinematography aside, a story on screen is only as good as the actors deliver. And an abundance of kudos must be given to both Davis and Wiseman for their performances. The depths of despair and borderline insanity that Davis is able to take her character to are worthy of award nominations on their own. She adeptly takes us on this downward spiral to the point we, sitting in the audience, forget this is a film and develop an actual fear of the woman. Wiseman, on the other hand, starts out as a kid we’ve all experienced in stores or restaurants, which you look at and wish that sperm didn’t win the race. But as the film progresses, and Davis’ character sinks lower and lower, Wiseman’s Samuel rises to the challenge to protect his family and help is mother, just as his father would have done. We end up rooting for him to succeed and cheer that he was born and is there, knowing the family will be safe with him.

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The Babadook won’t be a hugely popular film, as it is from Europe and won’t have top billing here in the states, but it is well worth your time should it pop up in theaters near you. It provides the kind of scare and uneasiness that doesn’t feel right, that may have you looking in the closet and under the bed before going to sleep. But it will also remind you of the importance of family, and of sticking together through the good times and the bad, and any film that can both entertain and teach us something in the process is well worth a view.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


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