Andreas Mertin reviews The Babadook by Jennifer Kent.
Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow, tries to live with her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) who has behavioural issues. Hyperactive, he fears monsters, a fear that has real world effects on both mother and son. One night she lets him choose his bedtime story and he selects Mister Babadook. In the pages is a terrifying bogeyman, who warns “the more you deny/ the stronger I get”. Having to deal with the lurking grief of her husband’s death as well as Samuel’s increasingly severe behaviour, Amelia becomes more disturbed by her son’s focus on The Babadook and the real threat it begins to pose.
The film is disconcerting throughout, presenting a world that resembles ours but with the strange proportions of a Grimm’s fairy-tale. This is heightened by the fairy-tale like Mister Babadook, reminiscent of old children’s tales like the Great, Long, Red-legged Scissor Man, that both fascinate and frighten children and adults. The colour palate of the film is true to its story, where we get hints of emotion that slowly build, rather than raucous shifts in mood, or the overused and ineffective quite-quiet-LOUD copout that passes for ‘technique’ in so many horror films. The spectre of the Babadook and Amelia’s grief are fantastically twined within the cold and claustrophobic tinge that stains every shot and conjures the evocative interplay of light and shadow. The result is a subtle story where even the happy ending is marred.
Understated and unsettling, The Babadook is not just horror cinema at its finest, but a strangely beautiful look at grief.