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The Babadook

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The Babadook review – a superbly acted, chilling Freudian thriller


Jennifer Kent’s clever, nasty, clammily claustrophobic chiller about a mother and child brought back a strange episode in my own parenting career. I was reading aloud to my son from a book that I didn’t know anything about, and neither did he. As the pages turned, the prose got weirdly darker, more disconcerting and more age-inappropriate. My son had reposed an unhesitating, childlike trust in the story, and I – the supposed adult – had reposed precisely the same childlike trust in a book about which I knew nothing. If I stammered, or faltered, he would sense that something was wrong, and that the book was actually far more interesting that he had suspected. Eventually, I asked if he wouldn’t rather play Plants vs Zombies on my iPad instead.

For the life of me, I can’t remember what that book was, but the episode was strange. In this movie, a stressed single mother, Amelia (Essie Davis), is going to read aloud to her boy, Samuel (played by a troublingly brilliant newcomer Noah Wiseman). She is a widow: her husband was killed in a car crash taking her to hospital to have the baby who has now grown into this precocious, disturbed, difficult child. From nowhere, Samuel has discovered an odd book in his bedroom – called The Babadook, an odd title, perhaps baby-talk for baby’s book, or mama’s book? It’s a creepy pop-up volume about a creature called the Babadook: a top-hatted, expressionist-looking shadow who comes into your house, and scares you. Far too late, Amelia realises that this isn’t a nice book, and in reading it aloud, they are going to make it come true.

The Babadook is partly a psychological thriller in the style of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion or The Tenant, a Freudian study of Amelia and Samuel’s joint dysfunction and joint breakdown. In one sense, the book triggers their collapse, and is a symbol of Amelia’s depression. With its top hat and cloak, the Babadook looks like the magician’s outfit that Samuel likes to wear – he shows great talent for magic, and his fanatical need to impress and unnerve his mother with his tricks is becoming disturbing: already he is in constant trouble at school.

Kent shows that as Samuel gets older, he starts to intuit ever more clearly his father’s absence and his own quasi-conjugal relationship with his mother. He is always clambering over her and heedlessly touching her in ways he doesn’t understand. When desperately lonely Amelia is masturbating in bed one night, her moaning inevitably wakes Samuel and the resulting scene is almost unwatchable. In a sense, it is Samuel who is the invader, the vessel of agonised memories and warped needs, and the two have jointly projected this ordeal into the Babadook: a creature of their own making. But, of course, it is also a supernatural phenomenon that cannot be explained away.

The Babadook is superbly acted. Davis really does look like a sensitive, loving person at the end of her tether, whose emotions have been turned upside down by lack of sleep, and pale, gaunt, goggle-eyed Noah Wiseman convincingly combines being frightened and frightening. He looks weirdly like the young Amish boy played by Lukas Haas in Peter Weir’s 80s thriller Witness: he is permanently, secretly aghast at what he is experiencing. There are times when the pair almost fuse into one traumatised entity. Amelia can hardly assert her authority to get Samuel to take sedatives: “I am the parent and you are the child, so take the pill!” In another scene, Samuel sleepwalks over to Amelia and tells her to “wake up”. “But you’re the one who’s asleep,” Amelia replies, wonderingly.

Kent exerts a masterly control over this tense situation and the sound design is terrifically good: creating a haunted, insidiously whispery intimacy that never relies on sudden volume hikes for the scares. And the movie cleverly riffs on the surrogate parenting being provided, almost primitively, by children’s books or fairy tales or stories. Even the sweetest of them – especially the sweetest of them – look threatening and bizarre, and there is something strange about inviting these sinister creatures into your homes and into your children’s heads for the purposes of distraction and escapism. Books demand participatory complicity in a way that TV doesn’t, and like vampires, the monsters and giants of children’s stories cannot enter without being invited over the threshold. The Babadook leaves behind it a satisfyingly toxic residue of fear.


The most impressive debut feature of the year also happens to be the scariest. This tale of an anguished single mom (an incredible performance from Essie Davies), her monstrous six-year-old, and the storybook bogeyman who terrorizes their home is guaranteed to chill you to the bone.

Jennifer Kent is clearly well schooled in horror movies. The Babadook at different times will remind you of Nosferatu andThe Cabinet of Dr Caligari, of Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion, Poltergeist, Don’t Look Now, Paperhouse and Candyman,The Shining, Psycho and The Exorcist. Yet she has synthesised these influences into something organic and original, a movie that is at once a psychological study of mental breakdown and a grisly fable, a film about grief and parenthood that is also a movie about horror movies - why we are drawn to the confront the darkness, and why we shrink from it.

"One of the strongest, most effective horror films of recent years - with awards-quality lead work from Essie Davis, and a brilliantly designed new monster who could well become the break-out spook archetype of the decade." Kim Newman,Empire

"Managing to scare an audience silly with original imagery and non-formulaic jolts is no mean feat […] Managing to move us at the same time is close to miraculous." Tim Robey, Daily Telegraph

"Deeply disturbing and unusually beatiful." Variety

"A horrifying fable: Scary, elegant and smart. Babadook fills me with hope as it announces the arrival of a powerful new voice in the genre." -Guillermo del Toro

"THE BABBADOOK: Deeply disturbing and highly recommended. You don't watch it so much as experience it." -Stephen Fucking King


I don't know how many other horror nuts we have here but this movie has been on my radar for some time. It is finally being released in the US (should be out now) and I plan on catching it at the end of the month when I travel to NY. Everyone has amazing praise for it, and I love that the director said this is a self contained horror film. The Babadook will not have sequels. Also, the pop up book is available to purchase now!

Edited by Bindusara
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  • 3 months later...

I also was a little underwhelmed. I thought the performances were good and it was pretty decent for a bit, but didn't entirely hit for me. I thought it the look of it was a little too obvious and Tim Burton-y and the third act is fairly predictable. I also hate that the creature has to do a very generic fast-motion head twitch thing and just scream at the camera. I thought this movie had a good grip on the idea that things are a lot creepier when they are seen out of the corner of your eye, suggested, glanced at, etc. and then it ruins it in the whole last half by having this thing just fuckin in your face screaming. I think nowadays when something even gets something half right in horror, people go nuts.


Also, I feel like I'm fucking crazy, but when the babadook screams, I swear to fucking god they use a sample of a demon or imp from DOOM. Can somebody please confirm this? I'm about ready to download it to pinpoint exactly what I;m talking about but it happens more than once.

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