If its in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.
This could be the biggest revelation in Australian horror since… well, ever. One of those rare films that burrows under your skin and leaves an impression for a long time after the credits roll, it has been generating overwhelmingly positive critical reviews since its worldwide debut at the Sundance Film Festival where it won Best Actor, Actress, Screenplay and Feature.
Amelia (Essie Davis, who you might recognize from Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions) is a single mother left to raise her six-year old son Samuel alone after her husband is killed in a tragic accident. Samuel is obsessed with magic and fantasy stories, an obsession that increases tenfold when he asks his mother to read from a pop-up book that mysteriously appears on his bookshelf. It turns out to be the story of a nightmarish character called Mister Babadook, who wants to ‘eat your insides.’ After hearing the story, young Samuel becomes convinced it is real. Of course, Amelia doesn’t believe him. Parents rarely do. But then Samuel turns into the most horrible, despicable little kid on the planet, and all manner of strange things start happening around the house. As the sinister events increase, Amelia comes to think Samuel might just be right about Mister Babadook after all.
Part of the appeal is the fact that the Babadook was written and directed by a woman, Jennifer Kent. As such, it benefits from a female perspective, sense of empathy, and even tenderness in places, especially when describing the unique bond between a mother and a son. Don’t get me wrong, there are shocks and scares a-plenty. The Babadook contains some of the most genuinely terrifying scenes in recent memory. The difference is that the scares are less visceral and in your face. There is no gore here, and very little in the way of cheap thrills. Instead, it gets you on an emotional level with all the accuracy of a sniper’s bullet creating more tension and atmosphere than any idiot with a bucket of fake blood can ever hope to.
For one reason or another, until now women have only been able to exert limited influence on the horror genre, but that could all change as audiences grow tired of gore-fests and start searching for something deeper. In many ways, the character of Mister Babadook could be a metaphor for angst, grief, alienation, fear, guilt and a ton of other emotions, none of them good. The embodiment of dark energy. How much is real, and how much is imagined, is often left ambiguous to the viewer. Deliberately so, I think.
The Babadook was reportedly produced on a meagre budget of $2.5 million, and has already grossed ten times that amount just weeks after opening in the UK. It goes on general release in America on 28th November, after which those figures are sure to climb into the stratosphere. An instant classic.
This review first appeared on the Huff Post UK: