This had happened to me two other times before. The first time was with "The Sixth Sense." The second time was with "What Lies Beneath." And this afternoon, it happened again with "The Babadook." Each of these times, I was practically the only person in the whole orchestra section of the movie theater. You can imagine, it was not only the movie onscreen I was focusing on, but I was also very wary about the dark quiet emptiness around me. But hey, don't knock it. Watching a horror movie this way is the best, since the whole experience is in more dimensions than 3D.
At first I was not thinking of watching "The Babadook." The title sounded corny. There were no known actors. The trailer was dull and unpromising. Everything about it screamed bad B-movie. Surprisingly though, when initial reviews were coming out, they were all very positive. In fact, there were even respected critics who rated it a 5/5, very rare in the horror genre. With these excellent endorsements, I was compelled to go watch it in order to see what the fuss is all about.
Amelia is a young widow with a seven year-old son, Samuel. Her husband Oskar died violently while he was taking her to the hospital to give birth. The sweet and kind Amelia, who works as a caretaker in a nursing home, is not really moving on well from her traumatic experience, and her special child Samuel's excessive hyperactivity and monster phobia is aggravating her woes.
One day, Samuel picks out a new book off his shelf called "Mr. Babbadook". As Amelia began to read this hard-bound pop-up book, she realizes that this had disturbing images and even more disturbing words. From that moment on, "Mr. Babadook" with his top hat, overcoat, shadowy form and long sharp fingers, would insidiously insinuate itself into the lives of mother and child, until all hell literally breaks loose in their household.
Writer/director Jennifer Kent was lucky that the two actors who played mother and child, Essie Davis as Amelia and Noah Wiseman as Samuel, captured her vision perfectly. Davis was subtle and convincing in her dramatic transformation from mild-mannered nurse to a raving virago. Despite his gentle age, Wiseman was able to portray Samuel's difficult behavioral condition and his efforts to protect his mother at all costs.
I totally see what the critics loved about this film, It was a throwback to simpler times when there were limited special effects and effective scares were dependent on the skill of the director to create these creepy moments. Whoever designed the Babadook pop-up book deserves praise because it really looked so unnerving, especially in its second incarnation. More than just the technical matters of film-making though, the director succeeds in setting up and elaborating the problematic relationship between mother and child and that was essential to make the whole film work.
During the parts when the Babadook was already exerting his negative influence on the family, the tension developed was very thick and the suspense can be unbearably uncomfortable. It was not really about scaring the audience scream silly, This film will make you reflect about the true nature of the sinister Babadook and what it represents. While it does not totally shake off its B-movie feel, especially with the awkwardly puzzling ending with the bowl of worms, but this humble Australian film definitely achieves its objectives as horror-drama with sterling results. 7/10.