THE BABADOOK review
Star Cast: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Benjamin Winspear
Director: Jennifer Kent
All she wants is a good night’s sleep. Ask any mother of a child under 10 how difficult that is, and you can read all of the helplessness in Amelia’s (Davis) eyes. She is a single mother juggling work and a demanding child, and trying to catch up at both.
But why isn’t Amelia getting enough sleep? It could be her son Samuel (Wiseman) who crawls into her bed and clings to her every night; it could be her herself, yearning the comfort of a partner; or is it something else?
That’s the beauty of debutante Australian director Kent’s astonishingly good film about a mother and a son. That it remains, always, a film about a mother and son. Kent ditches all the usual tropes of a horror movie to build creepy scenarios around a mother growing increasingly desperate, a son growing increasingly scared, and a house that can’t shake off an overwhelming depression.
Amelia lost husband Oskar (Winspear) in an accident while on way to hospital to deliver Samuel. She loves her son dearly but, seven years later, still hasn’t got around to giving him a birthday party. Samuel, meanwhile, is convinced there is a monster in the house and arms himself with weapons fashioned from household stuff plus what he filches from a forbidden basement where his father’s things lie. He also likes dabbling in magic, and is pretty good at it too.
His monster talk as well as the weapons he secretes into school have got Samuel into trouble once too often. Given one more warning, an angry Amelia decides to withdraw Samuel and keep him home. That’s when their long two weeks start, as Amelia gets pushed more and more into a corner, and Samuel withdraws more and more into his own. Amelia’s sister confesses she is scared coming over to their place as she can’t stand Samuel, and the boy wonders why nobody likes him.
If Davis is the picture of exhaustion and nervous worry, with her tenderness towards her son heartbreaking and almost too precious to touch, Wiseman returns the feeling in equal measure. All big-eyed and pale-faced, he absorbs like an adult and digests like a child. You can never lose sight of the fact that here is “a child” in “some danger”.
The title itself derives from the kind of children’s story that gives you giggly nightmares. It is a pop-up book about a black monster with talons who creeps across ceilings and floors and once “let in”, doesn’t leave unless someone is “dead”. In capital letters. Samuel finds the book one day on his shelf, Amelia reads it to him and… you know what happens.
But how did ‘The Babadook’ get there? Why doesn’t the book say the name of the writer? Didn’t Amelia herself write books once, some of them for children? Why is Samuel convinced of a creepy presence at home? What killed Oskar exactly? And, finally, why can’t Amelia sleep at night?