Six years after the violent death of her husband, Amelia (Essie Davis) is at a loss. She struggles to discipline her''out of control' 6-year-old, Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a son she finds impossible to love. Samuel's dreams are plagued by a monster he believes is coming to kill them both. When a disturbing storybook called 'The Babadook' turns up at their house, Samuel is convinced that the Babadook is the creature he's been dreaming about. His hallucinations spiral out of control, he becomes more unpredictable and violent. Amelia, genuinely frightened by her son's behaviour, is forced to medicate him. But when Amelia begins to see glimpses of a sinister presence all around her, it slowly dawns on her that the thing Samuel has been warning her about may be real.
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Children's toys are great fodder for horror films. Whether it's a creepy doll (Annabelle
) or a music box (The Conjuring
), a ventriloquist dummy (Magic
) or an action figure (Xtro
), seemingly innocent playthings become objects of terror within the context of a good movie. Making audiences afraid of toys is bad enough, but now The Babadook
does the same for children's books.
stars Essie Davis ("Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries") as a young mother named Amelia who, following the death of her husband, is tasked with raising her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman in his first film role), on her own. Samuel is plagued by nightmares about monsters, so every night Amelia reads a story to him to help the boy fall peacefully asleep. One night, Samuel chooses a book off of his shelf called "Mister Babadook" for his bedtime story. Amelia is confused as to where the book came from, but reads it to Samuel anyway. The book is about a horrible monster called Mister Babadook who announces his presence with a rumbling sound and three sharp knocks. The book not only frightens Samuel, but freaks Amelia out as well. She tries to destroy the book, but it repairs itself and ends up back on the shelf. When Samuel starts to act out at school and with his friends, Amelia sees that he is taking the threat of the Babadook a little too seriously. Soon enough, Amelia realizes that the Babadook may be more than just a frightening story in a children's book.
Although The Babadook
is the first feature film from writer/director Jennifer Kent, the Australian filmmaker made a short film several years ago called "Monster" that shares many of the same ideas, both visually and thematically. The Babadook
is dark and disturbing, hitting all the right notes in all the right places in order to get the audience to cringe and squirm. The book within the film is a pretty good indicator of the film's mindset; on the surface, the book looks like a kid's storybook, but the words and pictures inside tell a very different story. It's almost like The Babadook
pretends to be a children's film, then pulls the rug out from under the viewer and turns into something which children should never be allowed to see. Tense and suspenseful, the film can be difficult to watch at times, but you'll find it much more difficult to turn away. The Babadook
is simply a very effective horror movie, the kind that will make you go home and check under your bed before you go to sleep.
There are some interesting psychological story layers in The Babadook
. It's ostentatiously a monster movie, but it's also a film about family and motherhood. While Mister Babadook himself is clearly the antagonist, his methodology isn't quite so clean-cut. Once the Babadook is in Samuel's head, the monster possesses the boy, turning the otherwise nice kid into a juvenile delinquent, talking back to his mother and physically assaulting other children until everyone is afraid of him. Amelia is affected by the Babadook as well, lashing out against her son and becoming physically violent and emotionally neglectful. The Babadook's effect on both of them leads to the belief that the monster's influence is just subconscious grief over the loss of Samuel's father manifesting itself in a behavioral way. Or maybe the Babadook is simply a freaky monster from a children's book. Either way, The Babadook
is a scary movie that is destined to become a modern classic.
The creepy audio in The Babadook
is first-rate. Sound designer Frank Lipson (The Adventures of Tintin
, Killer Elite
) does a great job at layering the sound effects, creating a complex sonic landscape that is capable of raising the hairs on the back of the viewer's neck. Of course, Mister Babadook signals his arrival with the sounds of rumbling and knocking, and those auditory effects are booming, but there are more subtle sonic things at work as well. The ambient room tone swells with subliminal voices whenever the film gets tense or suspenseful, with just a barely recognizable "hahahahaha" seeping into the audience's ears. The monster also announces his presence with a horrifying "ba-ba dook! Doooook! DooooooOOOOOOKKKK!!!" that is nothing short of seat-rumbling. Thanks to the superb sound design, audiences can't even close their eyes to get away from the fear that comes from The Babadook
is an absolutely terrifying film. It's not full of cheap jump scares, either. The fear is built up over the entire course of the film, filling the viewer with dread, until finally the Babadook shows up and makes the whole thing boil over. It takes the monster a while to fully realize, but once he does, holy cow, he's effective. The monster is very well done, looking almost like the drawings in the book have come to life, except not in nearly as cheesy of a way as that makes it sound. The Babadook himself isn't the only fear-inspiring element in the film, either; both Amelia and Samuel seem to be possessed by the spirit of the monster and, thanks to some wonderful acting by Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, those scenes are even more terrifying than the ones with the actual Babadook monster. Between the supernatural horrors and the real life terrors, there is a lot to be afraid of in The Babadook