The world was abuzz with a gem of a movie that scared the pants off of moviegoers worldwide and it has finally landed on our shores for an extended run after a brief and sold out visit during the Toronto After Dark film festival last year. The Babadook reminds us all how to be scared once more when the lights go down and something unimaginably horrible is talking to you from the shadows.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother still dealing with the trauma of losing her husband in a car crash while on the way to the hospital to give birth to their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). She’s at her wits end as she juggles the stress of being single mom along with a young boy who now at the age of 6 can’t get over his irrational fear of monsters which constantly send him into a rage. Especially after reading the abnormally dark children’s book “Mr. Babadook” that he pulls off the shelf to have read to him one night. His rages get worse and they ultimately shun them both from friends, family and school as she begins to succumb to the most horrible thoughts that a mother can ever have…but this book keeps coming back, and as things escalate and her house gets stranger and stranger it’s going to every ounce of motherly love she has to solve this problem, because the Babadook is real…and he wants her son.
A breath of fresh air on the horror scene that gives us plenty of frights that stay psychological and keep the blood and the gore to a minimum as writer/director Jennifer Kent in her debut effort allows us to feel the hairs on the back of our neck stand up and the goose bumps we had long forgotten about come back to our exposed skin, taking the horror to an emotionally real place.
It all starts out simply enough as we see our mother and heroine assuring her son who is prone to crafting monster fighting weapons and breaking things around the house that there are no monsters underneath his bed but it escalates in such an amazing way. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent just gives us this family that are down on their luck and never quite able to get back into the real world and it works as such a great metaphor and parallel for real world issues of grief. She ramps up the intensity and then tension through young Noah Wiseman who in reality is just a horrible little kid with a mother that is so overwhelmed by life that she doesn’t know which way is up. Kent takes us down a dark rabbit hole as we see this loving mother pushed to her brink in moments that I can only imagine some mothers will want to live vicariously through, if only for a moment. Kent doesn’t bombard us with faux jump scares for the sake of it but crafts moments of genuine tension and terror as she realizes her situation and prays to god it might not be too late. The narrative has a crisp flow to it and as horror gets born out of tragedy we never feel like events are hokey or forced just that our leading lady got to a place she almost couldn’t get out of.
Essie Davis absolutely carries the film as the bullied and stressed out mother who has to fight back in order to save her child as the Babadook itself acts as an extension of her own grief and frustrations that just wants her husband back in her arms. She sells the story exceptionally well and we are emotionally invested in her, even when she is being horrible to that little young boy, and credit to Noah Wiseman as he was a perfect counter point in it all to sell this creepy and downright frightening story of how powerful of an emotion that grief can be.
With The Babadook, Kent presents us the manifestation of grief itself which makes for a fantastic villain and reminds us all that some of the worst monsters out there, are the ones that we just have to make peace with.
The Babadook opens tomorrow, exclusively here in the city of Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox