By Brian M. Sammons
The Babadook (2014). Director: Jennifer Kent. Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall. Country: Australia.
Once again, I’m reviewing a movie that has no connection to the Cthulhu Mythos. Wait, don’t go anywhere. If all I did was cover Mythos movies, this would be a very lonely place. While this film is not Mythos, The Babadook is the Aussie import indie darling that came out last year and wound up on nearly every horror critic’s Best of 2014 list, and for good reason. This is smart, exceptionally well-made horror that makes you think, a rare thing in this day and age of remakes, sequels and lackluster “original” efforts like Ouija, The Lazarus Effect, Deliver us from Evil, etc. So, if that sounds good to you and you might want to give this movie a look, come with me, take my hand, and I’ll tell you about The Babadook.
This film is about Amelia, a single mother with a young son named Samuel. The two have a strained relationship, to put it mildly, stemming from the fact that the husband/father of this family was killed in a vicious car crash rushing Amelia to the hospital so she could give birth to Samuel. So, an overlying sadness permeates this movie right from the start. Actress Essie Davis as Ameila portrays that deep, dark depression wonderfully. It’s more than just crying fits or her constantly looking glum. I have never seen such an honest portrayal of depression, how it grinds you down in your day-to-day life, even if it doesn’t bring you to tears. Yes, credit has to go to writer/director Jennifer Kent for some of that, and we’ll get to her in a moment, but I cannot say enough about Essie Davis in this movie. By and large, The Babadook is a one-woman show. While there are supporting characters, and young Daniel Henshall is more than adequately annoying as the shrieking Samuel, Essie Davis is amazing in this movie. She gives a sympathetic – yet, at times, terrifying – performance that draws the viewer in and holds them from the moment she’s on screen until the end credits start to roll.
As for the plot of the movie, it is clear there is unspoken rage simmering just below Amelia’s surface in addition to the sadness. You might think you know where this movie is going from that, but soon, an unknown element is introduced to muddy up the waters. One night at bedtime, the son discovers a strange book that neither he, nor his mother, remembers seeing before. Called Mister Babadook, it is a one-of-a-kind-looking child’s popup book about a mysterious and sinister character called the Babadook. While at first just weird and off-putting, the shadowy creeper from the book starts to plague the mother and son, and there seems to be no escaping it. A mix of a psychological thriller and an out-and-out monster movie, this film always keeps you guessing as to what’s real and what’s not.
Now, for that other reason this movie is so stellar: the story written by, and direction of, Jennifer Kent. The Babadook is a movie with multiple layers, told and shot expertly, that can be experienced many ways. While I read the story one way, there are others that see it in a different light. To be fair, it’s not all that ambiguous, as writer/director Kent does give you enough evidence sprinkled throughout the movie to make its meaning pretty clear. However, you, the viewer, are never beaten over the head by those clues, and the film has enough faith in its audience to assume that they can get things without having to hold their hands. As a mostly-aware, somewhat-thinking adult, I really appreciate that. The Babadook also lends itself well to multiple viewings, as going back to this one after giving it an initial watch will have you noticing many subtle little things you might have overlooked the first time through. The fact that this film looks great and has real moments of shudder-inducing fright is the cherry on this tasty Sunday of a movie. If only all horror films were made with this much thought and care, the world would be a much better place.
Final Verdict: While not Lovecraftian, The Babadook is a must-watch movie. Hell, as I just said above, I think it’s a must-watch-multiple-times movie. For me, it gets better with each viewing. If you live in North America, and want to see this film and add it to your home library, you can get an excellent Blu-ray of it from the always-impressive Scream Factory. It’s also available from Amazon. While crap like the aforementioned Ouija got a wide theatrical release, this exceptional film did not. Don’t let stupidity like that stand. Watch this movie, support this movie, and I am confident you will love this movie. Yes, it is that good.