In opening scenes a single mother struggles to raise her son who constantly complains there are monsters in his room. His monster diatribes are a little too detailed and he starts carrying around makeshift slingshots for protection. Later, the son has serious problems playing well with others, which causes a bit of mother-son tension.
I should say even more mother-son tension since we’re given a backstory about the husband dying in a car accident while transporting a very pregnant wife to hospital to give birth. It’s understandable that might create a base tension between mother and son, not to mention the birthday mindset of the son being born on the day his dad died. This past might give more credence to a young boy locked into a monster fantasy as deflection from details he cannot yet process.
One night son pulls a bedtime story book from the shelf for mom to read – The Babadook. No one knows how the book about the gruesome, phantom arrived but its contents become predictive much like the video in The Ring. Mom tries desperately to get rid of the book but it returns, it’s taunting pop-up pictures within becoming more and more sinister. The Babadook starts to manifest itself in frightening and increasingly more dangerous ways; son becoming more desperate and reclusive, mom unraveling to full-on hysteria.
The setting, lighting, sound editing and camera work are what we might expect from the horror genre. There’s the big creepy house for the two occupants, both slowly deteriorating in mental state. Lighting is low, flash sequences reveal the manifestation of the supernatural elements in place, creeks and thuds with no other explanation permeate what might be a tranquil setting.
Acting is stellar and mostly a one woman show; I’m wondering why I have never heard of Essie Davis. Her performance is a freaking tour de force of emotional implosion and slow steady descent into madness. I would compare it to Piper Laurie’s raging psychopath in the original Carrie but Davis delivers a more relatable character with a much more dire situation. If there was an award for Best Horror Actress, she would win.
First time director/writer Jennifer Kent has created a beautiful film that works exceedingly well at scaring you. However, its not the conventional in-your-face horror methods, terrorizing your conscious and working the fear of the unknown, it works by playing on much greater fear you already know – the loss of a bond between mother and child.
Absolutely see this film. For me, it’s second to Boyhood and Birdman, carried only on Kent’s writing and direction and a screen-smoking performance from Davis.