The Babadook is written and directed by Jennifer Kent. It stars Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall and Hayley McElhinney. Music is by Jed Kurzel and cinematography by Radek Ladczuk.
Amelia is a single mother still haunted by the violent death of her husband, she is trying to deal with her young son Samuel's fear of a monster in the house. Initially tolerating it as a flight of fancy, the arrival of a book in the youngster's bedroom called Mr. Babadook, signals the start of a sinister presence that she herself can begin to fear as well.
Australia has been producing some great horror films in the last couple of decades, The Babadook is one of the best of the bunch. Jennifer Kent made it as a 10 minute short back in 2005 called Monster, itself a super piece of horror film making, now in full feature length form (Kent's first), the vision and intelligence explodes off the screen in every frame.
The premise at the core is not exactly fresh, but Kent manages to make The Babadook its own entity, skilfully steering away from formula jolts and terrors. Which in this day and age of horror retreads, sequel frenzies and blood for blood's sake, is most refreshing. This is a big character piece, a two hander of incredible emotional power, a mother and son dealing with their own demons before the eponymous Mr. Babadook enters the fray. We care about this pair of troubled souls, so much so that as we start to feel the dread, get the tingles down the spine, our hearts are also aching for them. The two performances of the actors quite simply magnificent.
Mr. Babadook is a pop-up picture book that suddenly arrives into their lives. The creature is a sort of cross between a German expressionistic nightmare and Jack the Ripper. The book itself is creepy enough in its own right, more so as it starts to take on a more terrifying tone – and Amelia proves unsuccessful at getting rid of the thing – the picture starts playing its ace psychological cards. The monster is kept mostly to the edges of the frames, or just popping up for a quick glance in unexpected places, this is a great move and suits the narrative perfectly.
The tech credits are top notch. A key aspect to getting the most out of The Babadook is to make sure the sound is loud, for the sound mix is tremendous and can bring pounds of goose-flesh rising up on your arms. Ladczuk's photography is at one with the themes pulsing away in the story, the colours paled and cheerless, enhancing the fractured psyches of mother and son, but Mr. Babadook is a jet black presence in this landscape. All told the art design from the book to the house and the creature is excellent.
Umbrella's Australian All Region Blu-ray Release has a super transfer and does justice to the sound mix. There's over an hour of interviews, which are a mixed bag of informative chat and back slapping, a 12 minute behind the scenes making of and some trailers. The bonus is the 10 minute short, Monster, The Babadook in its infancy but no less scary for it.
The Babadook is a superlative horror film for adults, like when Polanski met Kubrick and they decided to pay homage to Fritz Lang and George Melies. Yes it's that good. 10/10
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