Featuring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Movie website: www.umbrellaent.com.au/movie/babadook/
Australian release date: Thursday, May 22
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.
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