Exclusive Review: THE BABADOOK (2014){0}

When you’re very young, “being scared” is not an amusing sort of experience. Oh, sure, as soon as we hit about 13 – and hopefully throughout our adult lives – we spend most of our times “playing along” with scary stories. And on the rare occasion when a film or a novel really does scare us, we’re all grown up by that point. We get over it, forget about it, and get distracted by other things.

Children don’t have these luxuries. When kids are truly scared, they’re trapped in some sort of dark and primeval place, and nobody wants that for a child.

But, of course, we do want ideas like that in our horror fiction, and the brilliant new thriller from Australia called The Babadook taps into all sorts of things that appeal to fans of dark corners, creepy stories, and things that go bump in the night when… we’re little kids. Written, directed, and practically hand-crafted with meticulous care by actor-turned-multi-hyphenate Jennifer Kent, The Babadook (also known as Mr. Babadook in some countries) is about a fictional character who seems to have leaped right out of a creepy storybook illustration and into the already unhappy world of a widow named Amelia and her little boy, Samuel.

If The Babadook already sounds like the umpteenth variation on Poltergeist, as in “oh no, an evil spirit wants a sweet child and it’s up to mom to save the day,” rest assured that this film merely bats that concept around for a while, because Ms. Kent knows that you’re expecting the conventional. And then her movie just keeps getting weirder, darker, and less predictable. So while the film has more than its share of “basic” horror essentials (a great visual sensibility, a palpable sense of gloom that starts out slight and gradually gets more distressing, a confident editorial approach, lots of mood-setting music that never intrudes on the action, and two fantastic lead actors), The Babadook delves into themes and ideas that one simply doesn’t find in genre films that “play it safe.”

To say much more would spoil some of the fun, but let’s just say that both Amelia and young Samuel come off as heroes, victims, villains, and.or monsters, depending on what scene you’re presently focused on. And once the title character starts to make its presence known, The Babadook goes from a horror film about a fractured woman and her disturbed little boy to the sort of off-kilter parable that Tim Burton seems to love, but never has the actual darkness to pull off. (Serious aside here: the is one beautifully-wrought movie monster, and double the kudos to the artist(s) who created the “pop-up book” in which Mr. Babadook resides. Gorgeous work.) Basically The Babadook is full of great little touches that add up to a whole lot, and it’s a wonderful reminder that one need not re-invent the wheel to create a quality horror movie; all you need is a creepy old story, some excellent new ideas, and about 200 talented people to help you out.

Plus it’s a scary movie that will play as well with 13-year-olds as it will with 31-year-olds. Take it from someone who takes note of these things: horror movies like The Babadook are rare birds indeed.


Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

UPDATE: Seen The Babadook? Read “The Babadook: A Psychopathological Perspective”

Babadook DVD

Above: UK DVD cover. Below: Deluxe US Blu-ray packaging with pop-up Babadook