The Babadook, 2014
Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West and Tim Purcell
A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
It’s a nightmare on Ramsey Street in this twisted and tormenting horror from first-time feature director Jennifer Kent. Funded mostly by Kickstarter and based off a short film she made, The Babadook is a frankly terrifying experience that plays with expectations and leads you down paths you didn’t think possible.
Single parent and widow Amelia is struggling with her six-year old Samuel as he is constantly keeping her up at night, scared that monsters will attack them both while he sleeps. During one of his frequent night terrors, the pair read a mysterious book called Mister Babadook, which describes a monster that wants to be let in to the house. As the pair get less and less sleep and anxiety kicks into overdrive, the Babadook grows more and more powerful and even appears to be real.
What makes Kent’s The Babadook work so well is in the idea that Mister Babadook isn’t real and is just a manifestation of the worry and stress the pair are dealing with around the anniversary of the tragic death. Kent drops in subtle hints about where the book came from, who created it, who is adding to it and it never plays its hand to early with beautiful execution. Similarly it never plays its hand too late either and its 90-minute runtime is perfectly paced from its slow and easy start to its nail-biting end. It also features some of the best sound work in a film seen all year and demands to be seen at the cinema just to get the full experience. Kent has carved a gorgeous movie that hits every nail it aims for almost without fail.
But while it’s Mister Babadook who holds the poster and title of the movie, the real star of the show is Essie Davis as the troubled Amelia. She is perfectly cast as the struggling mother who can’t keep her own life in check, let alone a son who is dealing with anxiety issues. You see the pain in her eyes and you feel deeply for her, which becomes even more powerful as the movie progresses. Noah Wiseman, who plays her son Sam, is also magnificent as a boy who craves for only two things in life – his mother to be safe and his life to be normal. The movie initially plays him off as a oddball brat but as it starts to lay out the pieces of the puzzle you slowly begin to learn why he is the way he is. It’s a master stroke by Kent and she gets out two of best performances seen in a horror movie in 2014.
Victims become attackers, aggressors become victims and The Babadook never lets up. Some might feel that the execution of the Babadook himself might be a little goofy and the ending to be a bit over-the-top, but the effectiveness of the tension built by Kent along with the terrific performances by Davis and Wiseman is chilling, heartbreaking and utterly terrifying. The Babadook is edge of your seat stuff and it will keep on you on that edge until the final credits roll. Not just one of the best horror movies of 2014, but one of the best movies of the year period.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
The Babadook is released in the UK and Ireland on October 24th 2014.