Single mother Amelia (Essie Davis), plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son's Samuel (Noah Wiseman) fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.
Review by Louise Keller:
Creepy from the outset, Jennifer Kent's debut horror thriller has plenty going for it, from the unsettling mood created to a standout performance by Australian actress Essie Davis. The beauty of Kent's screenplay is its simplicity, relying on the elements and the characters' response to them. Life is not always as it seems, says Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a six year old boy with bad dreams and behavioural problems, whose mother (Davis) is finding it hard to cope, since the death of her husband. While Kent uses all the tools of the trade to create a chilling, claustrophobic atmosphere, none of it feels contrived or predictable. It's a darned good chill.
Life seems relatively normal when the film begins: a caring mother and her handful of a little boy. It may not be unusual for a child to like playing monsters or perform magic tricks, but quickly we realise that there is something different about Samuel. His favourite book that he asks his mother to read him at night is The Babadook, a story with dark images, disturbing messages and themes of death. 'It's just a book; it can't hurt you,' she says, to which he responds 'do you want to die?' Not the kind of everyday conversation between mother and son. Suddenly a sinister mood spreads its talons, as Samuel's behaviour becomes violent and unpredictable and Amelia (Davis) shows signs of cracking.
On a backdrop of bleak winter with naked trees, grey skies and dark nights, there are knocks, bangs, creaking doors and noises in the night. It's an effective soundscape that uses percussion to emphasise angst, tension and trauma as voices distort and eerie lighting make the hairs on the back of our neck stand tall. Dark shadows grow tall, cockroaches squirm from the walls and Wiseman's wide-set eyes, red lips, dark circles and dazed expression begin an escalation of the ominous. Davis's gentle feminine tones are intermittently replaced by a demonic-style voice and all the while the relationship between the two swells and fades like an unpredictable stormy night. The mood is reflected by the television shows - a black and white thriller, a violent action flick. What is happening in this normal suburban home?
Davis carries the film with a mesmerising performance: she is accessible, endearing and bewildering. The fact that she wears a lifeless, shapeless nightie and a grey cardigan for most of the film, accentuates the lifeless and hopeless mood. Wiseman, in his first screen role is excellent, displaying a wide range of emotions - from brattish to demonic to that of a normal kid. The supporting roles do exactly that, offering situations and elements that mirror the angst and uncertainty that surrounds Amelia and Samuel. The supernatural elements are well executed and Kent directs the action with assurance. Kent uses the philosophy that less is more and this works to the film's advantage, nurturing the demons in our imagination to manifest themselves as surely as those that jump out from a dark tale.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
So much more interesting and idiosyncratic than most horror films (whether from Japan or Australia or America), The Babadook is original and compelling, not the least for the extraordinary performance of Noah Wiseman as the 6 year old son, Samuel. Essie Davis we've known for ages as a consummate actress of great range, but this youngster is phenomenal, especially in the first half of the film - but throughout. His unique face helps, with large eyes and a wide mouth, both a tad out of proportion to his face and head. Yet he's cute and yet he's scary.
Before we move away from Essie Davis, though, it must be noted that her performance in The Babadook stretches her even further, and her ability to physicalise the tormented mother and the demons she has to fight is astonishing.
The film doesn't succeed because of Noah or Davis though, but because the newcomer filmmaker Jennifer Kent has an innate sense of cinema's audio visual tools. The audio is at least as crucial as the visual, and the latter is full of darkness, light having to force its way through, often at angles, teasing us to imagine what we can't really see.
That is the talent that Kent uses most, a natural affinity with cinematic drama. The foreboding house and the basement, the hard knocks on the door from no-one there are all part of the genre, but Kent freshens them up.
The story is a variation on a couple of mythical horror stories from the pages of old childhood books about the monster hiding under the bed. Or somewhere else in the house. Or somewhere even more difficult to locate...
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BABADOOK, THE (M)
CAST: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, Barbara West, Benjamin Winspear
PRODUCER: Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Kent
SCRIPT: Jennifer Kent
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Radoslaw Ladczuk
EDITOR: Simon Njoo
MUSIC: Jed Kurzel
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alex Holmes
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Umbrella
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 22, 2014