“The Babadook” is a film that calls back to a time when horror movies were fueled by tension rather than jump scares and when they meticulously dissected the psychology and vulnerability of their characters. With a combination of fantastic acting and a creatively designed creature that leaves a haunting impact on both the characters and the audience, “The Babadook” is a return to truly skin-crawling horror movies.
Years after losing her husband Oskar in a violent accident, Amelia (Essie Davis) spends her days working as a nurse at a retirement facility and caring for her son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Six-year-old Samuel proves to be a handful for his mother, as he is subject to nightmares and powerful tantrums. After discovering a disturbing children’s book featuring a creature known as the Babadook, the pair is soon plagued by mysterious occurrences, leaving Amelia to save her son and stop the monster from consuming her soul.
The overall tone of the film is dark and bleak, which reflects the madness that slowly builds up throughout the narrative. Writer/director Jennifer Kent illustrates the tension that permeates the setting and how it affects these characters. Instead of treating the Babadook as just a creature relegated to tedious jump scares, she uses it as a vehicle for the disturbing inner thoughts of the characters. Some of the best, most frightening moments occur while Amelia, terrified of succumbing to sleep with Babadook lurking around, tries to desperately stay awake. These moments show the terror of the unexpected and can become quite uncomfortable.
The only flaw with “The Babadook” rests with the ending, which is somewhat weak compared to the rest of the stellar plot. The finale is a bit silly and, while matching the mood of the film, quite nonsensical. It’s a forgivable misstep, but it would have been nice to see another, more satisfying conclusion.
The acting from the two leads is phenomenal, especially Davis’ powerful performance. She portrays the patience needed to mother a troubled child, the terror as the creature trespasses into her life and the psychotic rage as the Babadook soon begins to enter her mind and change her entire personality. Her emotional range is so excellent that she can balance her character’s typical, caring persona and the harsh, cynical version created by the monster. Wiseman also delivers a stunning performance as the troubled Samuel, who can transition from a screaming, terrified toddler to a strong, weapon-wielding child flawlessly.
Of course, the star of the movie is the titular creature itself. A visual cross between Freddy Krueger and the Hatbox Ghost, the Babadook is a wonderfully designed fiend that truly captures the image of a horrific intruder. Everything about him, from his storybook beginnings to his quick slithering movements, are both eerie and fascinating.
“The Babadook” is a reminder that real horror comes from the psychological hauntings of the characters. It delivers great performances, acting off of a truly terrifying and imaginative creature, along with a chilling tone that plays off the classic fear of the dark and unknown. While its ending is a bit questionable, the film brings creepiness to the surface.