The 2005 short film, “Monster,” gets a full treatment and Jennifer Kent (director and writer) couldn’t have unleashed it at a better time, daring to stray from the canon possession tale of the slew of spooky, ghostly features (more Paranormal Activities, Oculus, The Conjuring spin-offs, etc.) Already the winner of several awards (AACTA, Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Award), there is no excuse to deny The Babadook. It will only make it stronger.
Australian Best Actress Award winner, Essie Davis, puts on an incredible performance built on strength, fueled by the bond between mother and son, Samuel (Noah Wiseman). This very bond explodes on-screen amidst the tormenting Babadook that has manifested in their lives through a pop-up book. At first, the mother, Amelia, struggles to deal with the outbursts of her son at home, at school, and with friends and family all pointing back to this mysterious entity they stumble upon. This life-like tension, the conflict in the “real world” adds significant value to the characters’ struggling already with the loss of the husband and father in a horrendous accident on the very birth date of their offspring. In fact, because this film’s casting was done extremely well — and I mean I got lethargic watching Amelia’s struggle — you forget you’re watching an unraveling horror film. The entity slowly begins as a simple force, knocking things over, presenting itself in dreams, and usurping the images of loved ones a la Clive Barker, something we are familiar with from other demon/religious stories, particularly The Exorcist coming to mind considering William Friedking himself believes this flick will ultimately scare you and, for me personally, being the only thing that still gives me nightmares (Terrifying link)
However, that’s about as much as it resembles your average screen entity. The solution to this other-worldly intruder in this case is something real and relatable. We all know it, some of us more experienced in it than others, and it’s more terrifying than any force on this earth — Mom rage. The mode that defies all powers, while protecting her young. However, this extends itself to the antidote, ultimately being love. No priests were needed to dissipate the evil, to reduce it to a whimpering anti-matter force, banished to dwell in the basement and accept worms as meals. Amelia literally chastises the amorphous black…thing, claiming her kingdom like a lioness roaring in the face of a rumbling storm and as she spews out the monster in black liquid form, you finally breath with her.
Samuel, echoing The Monster Squad/Fright Night mentality, shows off improvised weapons that seem to be taken from an unexpected 80’s anti-hero. Amongst them, the backpack catapult. These kinds of payoffs are rare in movies that try to emulate the avenger in horror, and here the wonderful mind of Kent gives this trait to a young boy that defies his fear for a larger-than-he creature for the sake of saving his mother. The pop-up book itself is awfully eerie, and the execution of cinematography makes sure it is engraved in each frame. It’s very clear that atmosphere was a key element in this picture and watching the characters break under the pressure only to return stronger establishes an incredible mood.
It’s very fulfilling to see writers on a quest to bring the minds of David Lynch and Roman Polanski, with the tender care of characters and realism, despite the extravagance, and build a new realm in horror that depends more on the human condition, loss, and the grieving process. We taste it all in this. In this realm, Jennifer Kent strips all points of reference, the saving graces, the “Good Vs. Evil,” and generates a non-cookie cuter match-up of raw, unfiltered emotion.
I give this film 5 sharp knocks out of 5.