Year of Release: 2014
Director: Jennifer Kent
Screenplay: Jennifer Kent, based on the short film Monster by Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West, Ben Winspear
Running Time: 94 minutes
This genuinely creepy Australian film focuses on single mother Amelia (Davis) whose husband died taking her to the hospital to give birth to her now six year old son, Samuel (Wiseman). Amelia spends her days working in a retirement home and looking after her son. She has very few friends, the only person she is really close to is her sister, Claire (McElhinney) who has no understanding of what she is going through. Sam suffers from insomnia and is obsessed with imaginary monsters, which he has built homemade weapons to fight. One night Amelia reads to Sam from an anonymous pop-up book called Mister Babadook which describes a monster called The Babadook which torments an kills people once they become aware of it's existence. Amelia is deeply disturbed by the book's unsettling story and graphic imagery, and Sam is terrified, convinced that the Babdook is real. Amelia soon comes to believe that he may be right.
This film is less a ghost story and more a harrowing examination of a woman's mental breakdown. Amelia is a deeply unhappy woman, lonely, unsatisfied at work, living soley for her troubled son, unable to get over the death of her husband. Essie Davis provides a powerful performance as Amelia, haunted by far more than ghosts. To be properly scary a horror film has to connect with real primal fears, and this does: a fear of growing mad, a fear of a parent harming their child, and a child's fear that their parent may stop loving them or even hurt them. It's also a film about grief and how to live with it. The Babadook itself, a pale-faced monster with a tall stovepipe hat and sharp claws is barely shown in the film, and bears some resemblance to the concept of the "Shadow People" of urban legend. The overwhelming, shadowy creature can be seen in purely symbolic terms. Taking place almost entirely in a creepy, run-down house, prone to electrical failures, the scares are mostly character driven and slow-burning. It conjures a strange fairy-tale atmosphere, particularly in it's use of old cartoons, and Georges Melies silent fantasies that Amelia watches on TV. Jennifer Kent originally wanted to film the movie in black-and-white, and uses a kind of washed out palette with muted colours, making everyone look haunted. This is one of the most genuinely frightening horror films of the past few years and I would think taht some viewers, particularly parents, will react to it on a very primal level.