In recent years cinema goers have become accustomed to unimaginative cattle prod horror and lazy spin offs, the recently released Annabelle being a prime example. Once again it has been some one from outside Hollywood who has managed to breath new life into the horror genre, the Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent with her debut feature The Babadook.
The Babadook tells the story of Amelia, a run down widow struggling to deal with her hyperactive and seemingly mentally unhinged child Samuel. Samuel has a vivid imagination and a habit for seeing monsters, one which is forcing his mom closer to the edge and alienating the pair from social situations. One night Samuel wakes his mom up and asks her to read him a bed time story, selecting out, at random, a mysterious new book entitled Mr Babadook. However as the tagline of the movie suggests, ‘if it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of The Babadook’.
The Babadook succeeds where so many others have failed first and foremost by creating an uneasy atmosphere. The dulled colour pallet and eerie editing adds a sense of fear to the movie from the word go. The film is also propelled by two incredibly strong central performances- Essie Davis as Amelia is reminiscent of Tilda Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin, whilst new comer Noah Wiseman manages to find the perfect ambiguity between chilling and likable as the troubled Samuel.
Whilst most horrors nowadays are content with slamming doors in an attempt to scare you The Babadook achieves its fear through craft-mans ship and great performances. The movie plants its flag firmly under your skin and takes horror back to its routes in a way that is reminiscent of early Polanski or Cronenberg, whilst the running theme of grief adds an element of Lars Von Trier to the mix, with one scene in particular evoking memories of the controversial Anti-Christ.
Perhaps the main reason The Babadook is so frightening is because it manages to dig itself into our psyche and dig out some of our darkest fears. The strained mother and son relationship alone is enough to frighten most, as we have seen in many other ‘peadophobic’ films in recent years but what we get in the Babadook itself is a manifestation of our childhood dread. When the antagonist finally appears he comes across as somewhat of a modern day boogey man, the long dark coat and Edward Scissorhands-esque hands combined with a strangely human appearance is one of the most spine tingling images in modern horror. We all had our fears of what was under our bed as children and in the Babadook we are giving the answer we never wanted.
Kent shows herself as a clear talent to watch out for as well- her movie demonstrates a love of the genre that is rarely felt these days and the film, like its director is very cine-literate. Nods to Mellier are littered through out the film and add to its nightmarish feel, whilst her influences, as mentioned before are clearly visible.
Verdict: The Babadook is one of the most innovative and uncomfortable horror films in recent memory.Anchored by two award worthy central performances and topped off with some stellar direction this is the film to watch this Halloween.