The Babadook [Review]
Having premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, The Babadook has garnered significant attention, being hailed as one of the best horror films in years. While the film does provide an impressively gloomy and creepy look into the lives of struggling single mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), and an intriguing concept for the titular creature, The Babadook‘s horror elements are not consistently strong enough to justify the buzz.
After the death of her husband in a car crash on the way to give birth to Samuel, writer Amelia is forced to take a job in a nursing home. Samuel is seeing monsters in his room, and has even begun building weapons to fight them. When he takes one of the weapons to school, Amelia has to remove him from classes, beginning a downward spiral of isolation, depression, and strife for mother and son. The film reaches one of its high points when Samuel discovers a new book has mysteriously appeared on his shelf, titled Mister Babadook. The macabre pop-up illustrations depict a monster that lurks at the edge of sight, toying with its victims before revealing itself at their doom. Samuel becomes convinced that he has been seeing the Babadook, which, as the inevitable strange events begin to pile up, Amelia finds increasingly hard to deny.
The setup by director/writer Jennifer Kent is meticulous and patient, which makes the film’s second-half turn toward horror cliché disappointing. Familiar sights of doubting detectives, crab-walking critters, and black bile vomiting take center stage, and only the imaginative Babadook effects feel original. To its credit, the film never completely loses track of the parent-child relationship at its core, and Davis is very good as the despairing mother. The narrative flirts with suggestions that her viewpoint is perhaps not that reliable, including a big clue concerning the appearance of the Babadook book. Especially ambiguous is the ending, which leaves no small amount of unease under some surface happiness.
A number of very good horror films have emerged from Sundance in recent years, and The Babadook mostly earns its way into the club. It gets by without cheap scares or gore, but a good film could have been a great film with a few more stretches of the imagination. This being said, Kent does manage to keep the train on the rails once the Babadook appears, a trick that far too often fails to come off in the horror genre. The Babadook is simply creepy, and likely to have viewers thinking after the final credit rolls.
UGeek Rating: 6/10