The Babadook is a 2014 horror gem from writer/director Jennifer Kent. It came highly recommended by a friend of mine, who told me it was genuinely creepy. I took it as a challenge – as a horror fan, when I am told that something’s going to really scare me, I say ‘go ahead, bring it on’. As much as I thought the recent film The Witch was a finely crafted movie, I walked out of the theater with the opinion that it was a well-made film with some wonderfully researched historical detail. But scared? Nope.
That being said, The Babadook terrified me — and I do not mean with cheap jump scares, of which this film has few. This is a finely crafted film with a great deal of attention to detail, and you have to listen to every word of dialogue to really understand the full impact of this film. Going into this film is like stepping into an elevator and finding the buttons to every single floor have been pushed. Kent knows exactly where to aim her chills and shocks, and when you jerk to a stop and those elevator doors open, you are in for it.
The plot is deceptively simple: A young mother (Essie Davis, in an absolutely riveting performance) is struggling to raise her severely emotionally disturbed son (Noah Wiseman) alone; her husband was killed in a violent car accident on the night the baby was born. The little boy is convinced there is a boogeyman named Babadook after him and his mother, and that they are in grave danger. His absolute obsession with this horrifying creature from a children’s picture book begins to make him unstable, paranoid and menacing to other children. His poor mom has no life of her own; she is stuck in a miserable, thankless job, and she can’t get over the impending anniversary of her husband’s death, which is also her son’s birthday.
Throughout the first thirty minutes, you will be convinced that the child is the monster, because his behavior is so completely out of control, frightening, and annoying. He pushes his mother to her limits and is a genuine physical threat to others. Unfortunately, The Babadook may be far more real than the mother believes, and soon she and her son and everyone they love find their lives on the line.
The imagery of the Babadook creeps up on you slowly, subtly, building up to a creature of terrifying proportions. You won’t be able to get the sight of him out of your head, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself sleeping with the lights on.
There’s very little blood or gore, but there is one shocking, grievously grisly scene. Coming directly on the heels of one of the most emotionally charged sequences, it is a sucker punch to the gut that actually left me screaming.
Writer/director Jennifer Kent is to be commended on so many things, first and foremost for creating a truly scary horror movie, but also a movie with an underlying deeply emotional message. I never thought I would ever say a horror film made me weep.
So be wary of the knock on the door – ba ba, ba ba, dook dook dook -because once he comes in, you can never be rid of Mister Babadook.
Trigger Warning: If you have experienced a traumatic loss of someone close to you, you need to know this film may not be for you. I am a widow myself, whose husband also died a violent, sudden death, and I found myself identifying very strongly with the mother.
The film is currently streaming on Netflix and available on Amazon.com, both for purchase and streaming. It is currently unrated.