The Babadook Movie Review

BABADOOK from Umbrella Entertainment on Vimeo.

Featuring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thursday, May 22

Reviewers’ verdicts:
rolanstein: A creepy psycho-horror/thriller right out of the box – and it’s coming to get ya!
Karen: Disturbing psychological thriller

Widow Amelia (Essie Davis), who has lost her husband in traumatic circumstances six years earlier, is struggling to control her disturbed 6-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). The boy is prone to tantrums and anti-social behaviour, his dreams haunted by a monster he believes is real and coming to kill them. One night he chooses a book, “The Babadook”, for his mother to read to him before bed. She has not come across it before, and is alarmed by its frightening content and pop-out illustrations of the eponymous character. She cuts the reading session short and confiscates the book, but all too late – Samuel is already obsessed with the Babadook, convinced that it is the monster of his dreams. Amelia subsequently senses a presence in the house and when it manifests itself physically, begins to take Samuel’s monster warnings – and the Babadook – seriously.

Review 1: (rolanstein)
This highly original and genuinely unnerving Australian film is built around a storyline with faint echoes of de Maupassant (The Horla), Kafka and The Twilight Zone. Drawing on some classic horror tropes, writer/director Jennifer Kent has re-imagined the universal childhood figure of terror and menace, the bogeyman, in a new, truly nightmarish guise. Even its name, the Babadook (the sound of the creature knocking at the door: baba baba dook dook dook), is unsettling, sinister, vaguely demonic.

However, this is not a creature feature. Indeed, the film is not easily classifiable. Is it a psychological thriller? A supernatural horror flick? Well it’s either, depending on your interpretation. And neither.

Indeed, one of its great strengths is its open-endedness. Writer/director Jennifer Kent has allowed her story to be its wayward self, resisting neat answers and conclusions while grounding the work in the confusing and painful reality of parenthood.

Amelia is torn by conflicting emotions that ring all too true as her extremely difficult child confronts her with constant irritations and challenges. Is the Babadook her monster within, or something supernatural without?

Essie Davis puts herself through the emotional ringer in her sometimes harrowing performance as Amelia. It’s riveting stuff. Noah Wiseman is unnerving as her disturbed child (although his slight English accent is curious, since Mum doesn’t have it).

The final stages of the movie are a little drawn out and tentative, and could have done with some judicious fine-tuning and editing back, but we’re talking small bickies here.

This is an extremely impressive feature debut from an exciting and original new talent in Jennifer Kent. Don’t miss. And leave your expectations at home. They’ll do you no good.

Review 2: (Karen)
Horror is not my genre – the conventions are too trite, too predictable – but The Babadook, while not avoiding all the cliches (don’t go into the basement! bug hallucinations! the dog dies!) takes an everyday, believable situation and cranks the psychological screws so tight you really fear the worst will happen.

The setup is compelling. Amelia (Essie Davis, looking less like the glamorous Miss Fisher than you could believe possible) is still in free fall seven years after the death of her husband on the day their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) was born. She trudges through life, sleep-deprived and lonely, with unkempt faded-blonde hair, wearing her pastel aged-carer uniform. She has locked her grief away – literally, in the basement where she stores her dead husband’s belongings – and is dealing alone with Samuel’s night terrors and wayward behaviour.

The crisis approaches ever nearer when Samuel is excluded from school for firing off one of his makeshift weapons, and mother and son are confined to the house, which is rendered creepy-as with a clever cinematographic palette of moody blues and greys.

The Babadook, hitherto an evil character in a horrifying children’s book, is bound to be made manifest as Amelia sinks into psychosis.

The manifestation when it finally occurs is a bit of a disappointment, but the psycho thrilldom reaches fever pitch; even the denouement is unsettling.

Apparently The Babadook was made on a low budget but that has not resulted in low quality. Writer/director Jennifer Kent has fleshed out the character of Amelia with clever details to make her story credible. Calling the bingo at her aged-care workplace, Amelia announces “Five billion” just to see if anyone notices. Someone does – but it’s her supervisor, so her tiny desperate expression of spunk sends her on another dip down the inexorable spiral. In a conversation at a children’s party, a woman’s meaningless wittering prompts a bitter outburst from Amelia. These things demonstrate something hard in her core that rings true later.

Cinematography by Radoslaw Ladczuk and editing by Simon Njoo are also standouts here in creating tension from the first moment, with time-lapses and jump cuts giving a nightmarish quality; this film should propel their careers to the next level.

And Jennifer Kent must surely be on her way.

For other Boomtown Rap movie reviews, see Movie Review Archives

3 thoughts on “The Babadook Movie Review”

  1. Excellent review, Karen. We’re pretty much in lockstep with this one. Just a couple of differences:

    I was prepared to accept the story literally, as well as interpreting it as you have. Lil’ old fence-sitter moi. But there was evidence that the Babadook was not merely an externalization of Amelia’s psychosis. As mentioned in my review, I love that open-ended aspect.

    Secondly, I didn’t find the physical manifestation of the Babadook disappointing at all. On the contrary, I thought it was one of the few horror movie creatures that came across as truly frightening – that scrabbling on the ceiling had the hairs on my arms bristling. And the death metal voice! Also, I thought it was very effective that it was shown in poor light, without much detail. It’s when the creature is given the spotlight treatment in big budget CGI renditions that I lose all interest – the scariness comes from the unseen! Also, the threat it imposed was always vague (seemed it relied on scaring its victims to death!). This could be seen as a strength or a weakness. The former, for me. Once fangs or claws emerge, things become hackneyed and the fear factor subsides – for me, at least.

    Something I didn’t mention in my review that I should have – I thought the writing was terrific. This has to be one of the best managed scripts for films of its type I can recall. I reckon the movie is going to go down as something quite special in its genre area. The fact that it’s a feature debut for Jennifer Kent is nothing short of astonishing.


  2. Hmm, I think the only evidence was the book… Hard to talk about without spoilers!

    Yes, it was a great script – this Jennifer Kent is on her way. I just read an article about her today (in the West, I think); apparently the crew were impressed by the strength of her vision for the film. That kind of control has come out in the very freaky feel to the whole thing, from colour to rhythm to framing. Great stuff.

  3. That’s some evidence, though – especially the modded version of the book. And when she’s over her psychosis or whatever at the end, the worms? What’s in the basement? (Trying not to spoil!).

    Of course, you could interpret everything that happens as hallucinatory and down to her psychosis, and indeed, that’s the coldly rational take – but where’s the fun in that? I reckon it was supposed to be open-ended, but we can’t know for sure without checking with Jennifer! Anyway, it’s out of her hands once it’s out there. I’m stickin’ to my take!

    Quite so, I’m sure, re the director’s vision feeding into the cinematic styling.


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