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October 24, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

The Babadook

There is nothing more exciting for a film buff and aspiring screenwriter like yours truly than discovering a new exciting filmmaking talent. But the excitement is even sweeter when said talent happens to be a woman and in this case, there’s another variable that makes The Babadook one of the most wonderful cinematic revelations of the year: this debut from a female writer/director is a horror film!

Getting a film made is so hard. Getting it made by a woman at the helm is even harder, so I approached the viewing of The Babadook with enough satisfaction, being aware of how significant it was to watch a genre movie made by a female director at her first feature. By the time credits rolled though I was in awe of the creative talent displayed on screen and I was already craving for Jennifer Kent’s next film.

The Babadook is a haunting tale of a mother-son relationship scarred by a family tragedy. On the day her son Samuel is born, Amelia’s husband dies in a car crash while driving her to the hospital in a crazy rush since she’s in labour.

The film starts off seven years later: with the love of her life gone forever, Amelia (Essie Davis) has been raising their child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) all by herself and it takes no time to realize how this hasn’t been exactly an idyllic journey for the grieving woman. Working a depressing job as nurse in a bleak-looking home for the elderly, her life is practically a lonely affair shared between her work place and home.

The fantastic Essie Davis does a marvelous job at carrying Amelia’s mourning as if it was imprinted on her face. But the weight of the world on her shoulders is clearly aggravated by having to take care of a child who’s the constant reminder of the tragedy that destroyed her life.

Samuel, despite being a sweet boy, is affected by behavioral issues that get him suspended at school and compromise Amelia’s already difficult relationship with her sister when Samuel attacks his little cousin at their joined birthday party after being mocked by her.

But what truly challenges Amelia’s well being is how Samuel claims to have seen a monster haunting the house with the intention of hurting them both and how he’s obsessed with having to protect his mum. At first Amelia dismisses the boy’s fears as silly childish imagination. But when one night he gives her a new book to read for his bedtime stories, Amelia is horrified by its content. It’s a pop up book called “The Babadook” and it’s about a shadow-like creature that crawls into your house at night after knocking three times and you can’t escape its lethal visit.

Samuel claims to have just found it at home and that already sounds pretty creepy. But things certainly reach another level of spooky when after burning the book and throwing it away, Amelia’s blood chills in her veins upon finding the book as good as new at her doorstep.

With Samuel stuck home due to the school suspension and her insomnia making her call in sick at work, this quite dysfunctional family duo winds up getting caught in a claustrophobic isolation meant to unearth the mystery of the Babadook in fully fledged fashion.

The Babadook

Jennifer Kent is a talented Australian actress who graduated from the prestigious NIDA drama school and has collected some solid credits back home until realizing that acting wasn’t her true passion. In 2002 she managed to undertake a directing attachment on the set of Dogville with Lars Von Trier and she claims that was all the film school she needed. She proceeded on working on her scripts and managed to take part to the writer/director development program at Binger Film Lab in Amsterdam where she developed the screenplay for The Babadook.

I couldn’t be happier about Kent’s decision to transition behind the camera as she definitely proves to be a natural talent. She has explained how “she’s fascinated by what happens to people when they suppress their feelings, especially painful ones. Suppression may work momentarily, even for a number of years, but eventually the truth will come out“.

The Babadook wins on all fronts and especially in regards to making a genre film compelling, thematically sound and authentically frightening, not because of going crazy with gore or other special effects but because of creeping up under your skin with its complex psychological subtext. And all of this couldn’t work without the outstanding performances by Essie Davis and first timer Noah Wiseman who practically carry the film in every scene.

Kent’s is a striking feature debut that uses the horror genre to tell a compelling story about how mourning can affect our relationships and our lives to a dangerously haunting level. Smart, atmospheric and thematically poignant, the film soars by relying solely on slick cinematography, sumptuous sound design and most importantly its characters who (for a refreshing change in the genre) are actually people we care about.

As I was watching this slick piece of genre cinema, I couldn’t help but reminisce about The Sixth Sense, The Others and The Shining. Surely this is the film to see this Halloween if you’re looking for an excuse to cozy up to your date.

The Babadook is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital platforms from February 16th

Discs: Blu-ray: 1 disc / DVD: 1 disc
Price: DVD: £15.99 RRP / BD: £17.99 RRP
Genre: Horror
Certificate: 15

Special Effects: The Stabbing Scene
There’s No Place Like Home: Creating The House
Illustrating Evil: Creating The Book
The Stunts
Alternate trailer
Original trailer
UK trailer

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor