Arriving in UK cinemas on a colossal wave of buzz, The Babadook certainly has a strong claim to being one of the most anticipated horror films of 2014. Rest assured, Jennifer Kent’s debut more than lives up to the hype.
Single mother Amelia (Davis) can’t help but be reminded of her husband every time she looks at her young son; he died in a car accident driving her to the hospital to give birth. Seven years later and she’s still struggling to hold it together, as the irrepressible Samuel (Noah Wiseman) seems to be developing behavioural problems.
One night, he asks her to read a new book: The Babadook. The terrifying story convinces Samuel that the titular monster is real, and his behaviour grows worse, pushing Amelia to breaking point…but is he right?
The film’s trailers make The Babadook look like the latest boo-scare-heavy supernatural horror, and while there are certainly elements of that, it’s about grief first and boogeymen second. It’s Amelia’s daily struggle to simply get by that draws us in as we see just how much strain she is under. She can’t find anyone to play with her son, the school wants to assign him a monitor, and even she struggles to keep her temper with him.
As the film progresses, she gets more and more worn down and watching this mother struggling to reconcile her grief and resentment towards a child who needs her time, patience and love is absolutely heartbreaking. Davis delivers a towering, immensely moving performance in the lead, while Wiseman’s turn as Samuel is pitch-perfect.
That’s not to say that The Babadook isn’t scary. It is. It’s terrifying, and it’s made all the more so because we are so invested in these characters. The growing sense of dread is beautifully built up by Kent from the very first reading of the story (“If it’s in a word, or in a look…”) and it is maintained as the sleep-deprived mother finds reality and subconscious beginning to blur.
Drawing on The Shining and A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Babadook finds a strong identity all of its own and this is a hugely impressive debut. It will break your heart and it will scare the life out of you in the process. We can’t wait to see what Kent does next.