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THE BABADOOK (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Kristina Ceyton, Kristian Moliere
Written and Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring Essie Davis,Noah Wiseman, 
Daniel Henshall, Hayley McElhinney, 
Barbara West, Ben Winspear

The Babadook is the very promising debut film by Jennifer Kent, a spookily effective horror movie that is essentially a two-character drama between a grieving widow and her troubled child.

Amelia (Essie Davis) must raise son Samuel (Noah Wieseman) alone after her husband’s tragic death.

As the film starts, Amelia is overwhelmed by Samuel’s insistence on hunting the monsters that might be under his bed or in his closet. He’s even fashioned a crossbow that he carries with him to school, which promptly gets him expelled.

Things only escalate after he chooses a book called “Mister Babadook” one night for his bedtime story.
 
Amelia has never seen the book before and has misgivings once she realizes that it’s a tale of a boogeyman who’s all of Samuel’s worst fears.

From then on, Samuel is obsessed with the Babadook and soon Amelia thinks she is seeing the monster as well.

The fantastically unsettling drawings of the Babadook are by American illustrator Alexandra Juhasz. With his white face, top hat, cape and long, spindly black fingers, he resembles Lon Chaney in London After Midnight.  The art direction impressively suggests the monster in ordinary things as his destructive presence increasingly takes over the little family.

Davis is terrific as the mother, who goes from meekly overwhelmed to seriously unhinged as she starts to believe in the Babadook as well. Samuel’s actions have alienated everyone but his mother, so she has nowhere to turn for help as the situation worsens.

There are some great heart-thumping scares in the film, although I wish that the question of whether the Babadook is real or just a figment of the isolated duo’s imagination was more ambiguous. The movie builds to a great climax, then doesn’t know where to go, unfortunately. Kent, who wrote as well as directed The Babdook, concludes on an odd, unsatisfactory note that doesn’t fit with what’s come before.

That doesn’t undermine what is still a great piece of psychological horror reminiscent of The Innocents and Repulsion. I look forward to what Kent does next.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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