Directed by: Jennifer Kent
Written by: Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West
Reality has a weird way of becoming one of the most frightening things to accept, so at times we do our very best to utilize our denial to fight it off. In the end, it will always find its way to reach acceptance. This idea follows and haunts the characters in a film that handles some great metaphorical storytelling
Years after her husband died driving her to the hospital to give birth, Amelia (Essie Davis) feels exhausted trying to navigate life and care for her troubled son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). One day, Samuel brings a book to his mother and asks her to read it to him, which gets more disturbing with each page. It illustrates that the Babadook will haunt anyone that becomes aware of its existence.
The first 20 to 30 minutes of The Babadook serve as an excellent public service announcement for the use of birth control. It shows how Amelia looks and feels so exhausted with how life has operated so far as a mother. Samuel gets into trouble in school and even fights his cousin at a birthday party. All of it comes together in a car scene where Amelia’s driving Samuel and he starts screaming in a way that would test any parent’s resolve and love for their child. In all seriousness, it shows a child that has suffered trauma in their life and cannot adequately process their emotions and that’s where The Babadook displays its greatness.
The metaphor to grief could be described as thinly-veiled but it works so well that it just does not matter to me. Everything about it lines up very well and forces the character to interact with the real demon they’re fighting off, which comes from the pain of losing their husband/father. It’s something they have failed to actually confront and that’s where our good friend the Babadook comes in. The creature has this simple presentation that could easily fit into a storybook just like how it’s found in the film but also frightening enough when it comes to life to haunt its victims.
This became quite the splashy feature film directorial debut for Jennifer Kent, as she wrote and directed the movie. She demonstrated a deft ability to make things feel as bleak as possible, but still showing that love lies beneath the surface no matter what. No matter how many times it looked like Amelia wanted to snap, the love for her son always shined, which gets challenged once our creature friend begins to get involved. Watching this film felt quite unique for a horror film, as it was made in Australia and did not follow the typical horror norms of the American style. Jump scares became a premium and overall moody storytelling rose to the top in telling a story that certainly falls into the genre of horror, but also within family drama. There are moments, in particular during a birthday party that contains so much tension because of the familial and relational implications. Even with the creature being the one doing the scaring, the human moments feel just as difficult to sit through.
The narrative has such a richness in the character of Amelia, portrayed very well by Essie Davis. She needed to channel that pain and exhaustive responsibility of being a parent to a child that might not be the easiest to care for. Davis provides a good scream like most horror heroes, but also a maternal fierceness that really shows itself in the final third of the feature. She exhibits some exquisite range with the large swath of emotions needed to convey all of the madness happening around her and Samuel.
The conclusion of The Babadook does not follow typical horror convention and shows how Jennifer Kent completely understands the subject matter she wanted to bring to this genre. Dealing with grief has its step-by-step process, which starts with denial and the rest of the film feels like it goes through each stage all the way to the conclusion. The film works so well because it works on that level but also as a straight horror movie that can provide some well-crafted scares. It feels comprehensive in its approach to storytelling and it served as a good debut for Jennifer Kent, who will continue to wow audiences with her filmmaking prowess.