“The Babadook” (2014) is an Australian horror film that follows a violent boy named Samuel (Noah Wiseman) and his widowed mother, Amelia (Essie Davis).
Samuel is fixated on monsters, and begins acting out at school. He becomes increasingly disturbed after he finds a graphic children’s book about a monster called Mister Babadook. Amelia is convinced that Samuel is imagining things, but she is pushed to her limits by a series of terrifying events that Samuel attributes to the Babadook.
The story of mother and child’s grief-driven plunge into insanity at the hands of a mysterious monster scores high marks for both originality and style.
The film, directed by Jennifer Kent, is a genuine treat for fans of horror movies. “The Babadook” is a seriously smart film. Kent pays her respects to the classics like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist,” while giving us a uniquely female perspective on the genre. The film is light on cheap gags — I’m looking at you, “Paranormal Activity” — but soaked in suspense.
The first act of “The Babadook” is particularly strong. Amelia’s struggle to raise a child with behavioral problems while coping with her husband’s death is easy to sympathize with. Combating the social stigma attached to children who behave and act differently is an everyday uphill battle for parents and caregivers. Despite everything, Amelia and Samuel care deeply about each other and rely on each other throughout the film. Even without the horror dimension, theirs would have been a story worth telling.
The monster, the Babadook, is an exceptional, if not over-the-top, metaphor for mental illness and depression. If allowed to take over, it can destroy relationships and tear families apart. The support of loved ones can help you recover, even though mental illness never completely goes away.
The film’s color palette does an excellent job of contributing to the mood of the film. The grey tones used in Samuel’s book, “Mister Babadook,” are echoed in the washed-out aesthetic of the film’s scenery and costumes. They represent not only the mundane trials of everyday life portrayed in the film’s first act, but also the dark force of the Babadook that takes over in the second act.
If you are not a fan of horror movies, “The Babadook” won’t be an exception. For those who love all of the iconic suspenseful horror films, this is a standout story that really measures up to the greats.