– By C. Eden
The Babadook is an Australian horror film. Upon hearing about it, there were a few groans and the thought that this will be another “close but no cigar” attempt for our film industry to better other well to do films like Saw. However, this one is a surprise. There is a reason it has stood out at the Sundance film festival this year. It is incredible.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother struggling to raise her son Sam, (Noah Wiesemen) after the death of her husband seven years earlier in a car crash. Without any monsters or spooky stuff, she is struggling with problems of her own. The film starts with a dream sequence effectively showing the confusion between real memories and a dream, slowly and delicately levitating Amelia downwards so she can wake up to the real world with her husband dead and long gone. She is then thrust into her day. The harshness of real life is a slap in the face for viewers and lets them know the film has officially started, enter noise and rushing and confusion. Enter Sam.
Sam is clearly in need of help. He has behavioural problems making him loud, demanding and already experiencing a deep-seated obsession with performing magic tricks and hunting monsters which live under beds and in closets. Sam is enough to make you crazy, to the point it becomes necessary to elbow a person nearby and ask if children are really like that. Wiesemen is an amazing actor already, his age and ability is excellent as he uses his big eyes and messy growing teeth to go from cute to a screaming, scary mess in a matter of thirty seconds. His performance seems to make it easier for Davis to portray the fight she faces in simply trying to love her troubled son.
The first half hour ramps the pace up until the tension can be felt through the cinema. One knows that whatever happens; bad rendition of a monster film, bad acting from this point, even no monster at all – whatever might happen – this is a great film just based on the talent of the actors and writer/director Jennifer Kent has shown so far. However, somehow at the same time, there is a feeling that something is coming, something’s got to give, and it’s palatable. The film doesn’t take an up and down rollercoaster ride approach, one gets the distinct sensation of being suspended in mid-air, just waiting for the part of the rollercoaster that is almost vertical after such a tense climb. It is this that had no one in the entire place opening pre-bought snacks or shuffling bags or talking during the entire film.
Throughout the film, Amelia confiscates makeshift weapons Sam has constructed to help fend of the monsters that live in their old house to the point she is called away from her thankless job at the retirement home to have a meeting at the school after he is found to be carrying a weapon. Telling the school she doesn’t need him segregated and that he just needs attention and a talking to sees her take him home and continue her nightly ritual of reading him a bedtime story. When it is Sam’s turn to choose one, he finds a book on the shelf neither of them have seen before and Amelia proceeds to read the story of Mister Babadook.
Leaving them both unnerved by a death threat in the children’s book, Amelia places it on top of her cupboard where no one can reach it. This part is one of a few where music is used to separate emotions and also signify the end of a scene. It is extremely effective, with spooky music drowning the scene before she shuts the book, places it on the top of the cupboard and slides it away. Then there is silence and another scene begins. Like the rest of the film, there is not a second wasted as the story pushes on.
The Babadook itself is scary. With such a buildup and knocking on walks in the night, opening bedroom doors and breathy phonecalls one half expects there to be an invisible monster or a ghost. Instead, the Babadook is shown in all his black trenchcoat, top hat, Freddy Kruger-clawed glory and like the children’s book said, once he is let in, he does not leave. Amelia is the typical disbelieving, frustrated and very sleep-deprived mother until she reads the book and starts to see him for herself, adding to her nightmares about her deceased husband, the problems with social workers, her son and the failing relationship between herself and her sister.
There are definite goosebump-inducing parts in the film. Whether it is the subject matter, the screams both characters are capable of shattering eardrums with or the massive thumping-through-your-chest bass during some of the terrifying and confrontational scenes with the Babadook, this film will put you through the wringer.
The Babadook is definitely something to see. It is not often a horror movie comes along with the ability to suck an audience into a feeling and keep them trapped there until the film feels like spitting them out. When you see it, don’t bother bringing snacks because you will literally be on the edge of your seat forgetting you brought them. Bring a friend that won’t mind you jumping and shaking all the seats in the row and, well…it might be a good idea to invest in a diaper if you are heading home for a night alone. Fantastic film! Remember; whether it’s in a word, or it’s in a book, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!