For those of you who are just coming out from under the rock you’ve been living in for the past year, The Babadook is a psychological horror thriller about a young widowed mother trying to cope with the loss of her husband while raising her troubled six year old son. Anna (Essie Davis, most recently scene stateside in The Slap) has her work cut out for her as her son Sam (Noah Wiseman, in his debut) has become fixated on making traps and weapons to fight off the boogeyman. His focus is to protect his mom from the beast. Unfortunately, there isn’t any sign of the creature and he’s driving his mom insane and everyone that loves them away.
It all goes downhill when Sam wants his mom to read a book to him that shares the same name as the film. It’s a innocent little pop-up book that gets increasingly sinister as it shows the creature (who looks like something out of a German expressionist film) possessing the mom and using her body to kill the family pet and her son. This validates the sons theory that something is after them, and sends them both off the deep end. Oh, and yes just like in the book, they do have a cute little dog and as soon as you see coming outside at the beginning of the film you’ll let out an involuntary groan because you know they are going to kill it for cheap heat. Jennifer Kent needs to be smacked with a newspaper for thinking that’s a good idea. The rest of the film focuses on the mother and son as their roles of victim and aggressor are reversed and they try to help each other out of the situation they are in. For a first time role, this little Noah Wiseman kid really does a great job. He’s a le enfant terrible at the outset of the film, but I felt where he was coming from. Being little is scary, having a single parent is scary, learning at a young age your parents can die at a moment’s notice is scary, and the kid is having to deal with all that as well as the monster that is threatening hm and his mother. Essie Davis isn’t a slouch either when it comes to acting and this role requires a lot out of her. It’s a sympathetic portrayal of a young mother dealing with a troubled son and the toll it takes on her. Kudos to first time director Jennifer Kent (formerly an actress who starred in Babe: Pig in the City, directed by her fellow countryman and Mad Max director George Miller) for casting the leads so strongly.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to see this in theaters. During the second half, I wished I had. Kent creates a palpable sense of claustrophobia and menace. It’s almost like something David Lynch would come up with in some aspects. It legit freaked me out, and not much does and redeemed the film from a rather dull first half. The cinematography leans heavily on a very pristine black and white color palatte, like the film is taking place in the pop-up book. It’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing in true black and white as i think it might add to the experience.
I knew from reading reviews that most of this movie hinges heavily on symbolism. While watching it, I couldn’t quite decide if the film had a strong enough story to sustain itself or if the whole thing only works on a symbolic level. After thinking about it for a little while, I’m coming down on the side of the latter. Some of the best horror movies base their boogeymen on a concept (The Ring focuses on rage and hate, Nightmare on Elm St focuses on repression and the subconscious, and Friday the 13th is just retarded, much like it’s lead) and The Babadook doesn’t have much to say story-wise other than to pass off it’s antagonist as a metaphor. There is no concrete foundation for it or reason for it’s existence in the film other than symbolism. In what it sets out to the movie it is ultimately effective and I do not regret watching it, but it wasn’t as nearly good to me as others have suggested it is. The Babadook requires a re-watch for me to make up my mind as to if it is the instant classic others suggest, but the fact that I am considering re-watching it all vouches that it is indeed a damn good movie, just not an instant classic.