Despite every bump in the road the genre encounters, I still love to watch horror films. Let me be more clear, I like to watch good horror films. I’m not a fan of the cheap sudden scare which is, in my opinion, one of the laziest ways to make audiences jump out of their seats. I enjoy watching a good slasher flick every now and then, but my favorite type of horror is psychological — a film that gets under your skin and leaves you feeling uncomfortable. “The Babadook” is one of the best examples that I can think of in the entire genre. Due to a devastating car accident involving the death of her husband, Amelia [Essie Davis] is left to raise her son Samuel [Noah Wiseman] on her own. Amelia constantly works to care for her son, despite his acting out at every turn. One day she reads him a pop-up book that came out of thin air called Mister Babadook. Due to the horrific imagery inside, Samuel begins to believe that the Babadook is real and living inside the house. Of course Amelia doesn’t believe him, but the more she loses her mind, the more she starts to see him as well.
Don’t think that this is a straight-up horror film just from the synopsis alone. “The Babadook” is much more psychological than you think. The monster is still there, but is rarely shown and, when it is, it’s practical and unrelentingly frightening. But the Babadook can also be seen as a personified manifestation of Amelia’s grief.
No matter how hard she tries, she can’t move past the accident. Amelia is brilliantly portrayed by Essie Davis in an Oscar-worthy performance. Over the course of the film, you’re watching a mother go insane because of subtle changes in her life. Essie pushes herself to a place that made me feel absolutely terrified. Forget Joan Crawford, this is the mother of your nightmares.
Then there’s Noah Wiseman, who gives a great performance as well. At first you start to really dislike this child but, somehow, you begin to sympathize with him. You discover Samuel’s true intentions and, when you do, you see where he’s coming from. For all he had to put up with, Wiseman gives a very brave performance.
What drives the film is the dynamic between the characters and, boy, do they get their moment to shine. Their characters work not only because of their performances but because of Jennifer Kent’s direction. For Kent, this is her first feature film and it’s absolutely flawless.
The color pallette is mainly black and white. It isn’t a black and white film, but the sets are so devoid of color it creates a gothic atmosphere where you feel trapped with nowhere else to go.
“The Babadook” is a thinking person’s horror film because it challenges you to think outside the vein of a mainstream horror movie and go to a much darker place. In that respect, this is one of the best horror films that I’ve seen in my entire life and I’m not afraid to say so. Some of the imagery chilled me to my core and it’s thanks to Davis and Wiseman for their incredibly memorable performances.
Lastly, I would like to thank Jennifer Kent. Not only does it signal a dawn of great female directors, but it also reminds us what true horror is. So remember, if it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!
Matt Bilodeau can be contacted at email@example.com