A mother is driven to the edge of insanity by her seven year-old who insists that the monster in his storybook is really a presence in his house. The mother does not believe in the monster, but finds it can be horrifying whether she believes or not. This film is a fresh combination of familiar horror elements. Mother and child seem to be set against each other and it is hard to be too fearful on either’s behalf. First-time writer and first time director Jennifer Kent turns in a crisp horror thriller.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Amelia (played by Essie Davis) lost her husband in an automobile accident while he was taking her to the hospital to have her baby whom she named Samuel. Now it is nearly seven years later, and Sam (Noah Wiseman) has suddenly become a real problem child. It all starts when his mother reads for him a bedtime storybook called ‘Mister Babadook’. He wears a tall hat and shows sharp-looking teeth and is a boogieman that threatens children. The threat of Mister Babadook starts taking over Sam’s life. At night, Sam dreams about the monster and, during the day, he builds weapons that he hopes will allow him to kill Mister Babadook.
Sam is becoming unmanageable wrecking the house and taking improvised weapons to school. Amelia tries to restrain Sam, but Sam knows she does not really love him, perhaps because of the circumstances of his birth. Making matters worse, Amelia starts hearing odd noises at night and is starting to believe in Mister Babadook herself.
The idea that a child’s nightmare has some reality is very common in horror stories from Gahan Wilson cartoons to movies such as ‘Poltergeist’ and the ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’ films. This is Australian screenwriter and director Jennifer Kent’s first feature film. At 95 minutes, it appears to be a remake and expansion of the 10-minute film ‘Monster’ which Kent wrote and directed in 2005. She mixes in classic horror themes, psychological horror, a bit of blood and a lot of yelling. To give the film a chilling feel, it is shot primarily in shades of gray and blue.
Amelia finds she cannot sleep at night after facing the antics of Sam so she watches TV only to find that Australian cable seems to run nothing but sexual references or horrific scenes from films and cartoons. There is a nice little tribute to the darker fantasies of Georges Melies and pieces of ‘Black Sabbath’ and the unmasking scene from the 1925 film ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’. (Actually it makes me wonder if Australian cable might not be more interesting than cable in the United States.) Soon horror images are dominating Amelia’s mind. One thing that does not seem to work is having both Amelia and Sam be to some extent repellent. When one threatens the other, it is hard to work up much sympathy. (United States airlines have discovered that people have surprisingly little sympathy for screaming children.) A good horror film needs a good horrific ending to send audiences quaking into the streets. It is not really there.
‘The Babadook’ (shouldn’t it be titled ‘Mister Bbabadook’?) is often very professionally executed and has a nice sense of atmosphere, but the story just does not have enough fresh ideas to make it a classic.
I rate ‘The Babadook’ +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2014