Writer/director Jennifer Kent’s debut film The Babadook is the movie you have to watch this weekend if you’ve ever said that you are interested in watching good independent cinema. I don’t care if you are “not a horror-person” or the idea of a film about a single mother and her handful-of-a-son makes you feel depressed. If you say you wish they made an assured, satisfying indie film with good performances then you must support The Babadook.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a young widow living with her 7-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and doing her best to make ends meet and provide for her family after her husband was killed in a car accident. She has a job as a caretaker at an old people’s home during the day and most nights she stays at home exhausted by her life, her highly intelligent, energetic son and the grief that has never left her since her husband died. To add to her problems, Samuel has been exhibiting paranoia about a creature he refers to as “the Babadook” and Amelia is losing her patience over it. He won’t stop talking about it and she can’t figure out how to stop his obsession over a threat that she can’t see any evidence of. Her sweet, smart boy is getting out of control and she has no idea what to do.
This is the least of her problems, she soon begins to realize as the threat he speaks of begins to leak into her consciousness as well. I don’t want to give away spoilers but let’s just say she is in over her head soon enough and it is a terrifying thing to watch.
Ms. Kent has stated in interviews that this is not a genre film and the experience of watching it confirms her intent. You experience the cycle of Amelia and Sam’s life, sometimes feeling as tired as she is, and then the horror as it creeps in. This isn’t your usual “things go bump in the dark” horror film. There are thoughts, sensations, hints, evolutions of feelings – it builds on top of each other until you feel powerless. Or the characters do at least, and I could relate. Between the scares there are real life moments that land very very hard and ring true. They aren’t ‘movie lines’ or situations – they feel like real life does.
Actress Essie Davis is an absolute powerhouse – in the most understated, natural way I’ve seen in a while. She plays gentle, bone-tired, frustrated and terrified with such ease, it really is a performance worth watching. Noah Wiseman is so astonishing as Samuel, he deserves some sort of an award. He’s curious and energetic and intelligent without being precocious. Both actors hold their own throughout the film.
Final Analysis: The Babadook is a beautifully shot film about fears and horrors–imagined and real. Even if you hate horror films, I’m guessing you like good stories. At the end of the day, that is what this is. A good story, told very well.
My advice: Unless there’s a medical reason for not watching this kind of movie, you have to check it out at a theatre near you.