The Babadook

The Babadook photo starrating-5stars.jpg“If it’s in a word, or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.” That odd sentence launches the scariest children’s picture book I have ever seen. The edition appears rather mysteriously on a shelf in little Sam’s bedroom. He brings the dark red volume to his mom to read one night after she encourages him to pick a bedtime story. It’s about a mysterious man in a top hat that will terrorize you the more you deny his presence. As she turns the pages the images literarily leap from the text. No paranormal trickery here. It’s merely a pop-up, but the black, white and gray illustrations are tactile and thick. Given their rudimentary shapes, the pictures are as if rendered by a youngster. This only heightens their ability to convey dread. They haunted me in a way I’ve never experienced. A book lying on your doorstep isn’t scary in and of itself, but in this film it’s alarming.

The chronicle appropriates standard horror tropes (i.e. the boogeyman, child in peril, dark spaces, flickering lights) but utilizes them to suit a tale that feels fresh. Amelia’s husband died tragically in car accident many years ago. However his death continues to linger on. Amelia is a single mother raising their now 6 year old son Samuel. He seems to have an overactive imagination. He’s constantly plagued by visions of an imaginary monster. His teachers are exasperated by his conduct. He has been a disruptive presence at school but this has also been a problem at home – particularly at night when he has difficulty sleeping. He has even gone so far as to build homemade weapons to protect himself and his mother.

The Babadook doesn’t rely on lazy scares by ratcheting up the soundtrack with loud sounds. Nor does it capitalize on disgusting sights. It intelligently exploits our anxieties and the unknown. I felt physically uneasy by the time we reached the climax. In that style, one influence on the movie might be Roman Polanski’s Repulsion. A lot of themes are addressed. There’s the obvious ghostly terror of the Babadook – this shadowy figure that is terrifying in the manner he‘s depicted. But there’s this mother child relationship as well. They form a strong bond throughout the picture. She is raising a son (Noah Wiseman) that exhibits some behavioral problems. Meanwhile the boy is trying to guard his mother from supernatural forces that threaten her. Their relationship forms an underlying subtext that elevates this drama to something deep and poignant. Both of the principals are exceptional but Australian stage actress Essie Davis is a revelation. Her emotionally powerful portrayal as Amelia, his mother, compares favorably with great horror performances from Mia Farrow and Ellen Burstyn. I didn’t expect to actually be moved by the events of the plot, but that’s exactly what happened. The Babadook is a film that ranks high with the very best of the genre.


21 Responses to “The Babadook”

  1. WHAT??? 5 STARS??? I was considering watching this soon and have heard mixed reviews, but now I think I will watch this weekend. I skipped your review as I like to go in cold. I am stunned you gave this 5 stars as it’s so rare you do, especially for a horror film!

    • I enjoy horror. What I don’t care for is slasher films which seems to comprise most of the horror output these days. The Babadook is a classy, well made, eerie little gem. I loved it.

      P.S. Mixed reviews?! At 98% this has received some of the most overwhelming positive reviews I have seen all year.

      • GaryLE828 Says:

        Oh, I didn’t look at Rotten Tomatoes. I had just seen a few tweets from other movie bloggers and most of them seemed down on it. But then others liked it. Like Franz gave it a 2/4, but Isaacs gave it a 4/5. Someone else told me to avoid it; and then you gave it a 5. I’m definitely going to watch now for your rating.

        Yeah, that’s true, you are a bit of a horror buff. I remember the first review of yours I saw was “Mama” and I agreed w/ your sentiments. What a disappointment of a film! You’ve got a great concept, freaky looking ghost, produced by Del Toro, and stars Jessica Chastain which seems like a recipe for a classic. Unfortunately was anything but.

      • Yeah I hope you enjoy The Babadook. Positive ratings can oversell a film. I didn’t know its score on RT before I saw it so I wasn’t expecting much.

  2. Holy crap. 5/5 for The Babadook? I greatly look forward to a proper creep-fest whenever it chooses to show itself around here. Wow. Can’t get over that. Not that I think it’s too positive, but man. It just contributes to — like you noted above — the overwhelming outpouring of love for this particular flick. Can’t wait now

  3. I can’t wait to watch this. I just need to muster the courage.

  4. “It intelligently exploits our anxieties and the unknown.” Count me in for this one! Great review!

  5. I’m not usually a fan of horror films, especially in recent years as they’ve become very samey. However, I’ve heard almost universal praise for The Babadook though I think I’ve missed this at the cinema now, I’ll definitely catch it on DVD. I hope this generally raises the bar for the genre and we’ll get to see some original stuff more often for a change.

  6. GaryLE828 Says:

    Just finished a few minutes ago. I am on the IMDB board looking at different threads to offer different interpretations and clarity. Overall, I liked it, although I am not quite sure about a few aspects of the story. I won’t go into detail on here, though, b/c I don’t want to mention any potential spoilers for any readers on here. Do you go on the IMDB message boards at all?

    • Yes I do. I read those threads. On the thread called “Does no one realize what really happens at the end?”, I agree with fwsauerteig.

      • GaryLE828 Says:

        I read that thread and agree! Especially considering what Baba and Dook mean in Hindu as one poster pointed out. The movie really is about one topic, but dressed-up in a horror package. Very creative and well thought-out. The book was well done and villain was unique. Also, the story was pretty unpredictable and you weren’t sure what was about to unfold. All of these are the winning ingredients to make a successful horror film. And the acting was very good, as well. That little kid was bouncing off-the-wall! lol.

  7. High praise indeed, man! I really wanted this to have the same effect on me but I didn’t really care for where the story ended up and I wasn’t impressed with revelation of the Babadook. I did, however, love how it looked and it was extremely well shot!

    • In a year that gave us Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Devil’s Due, Deliver Us From Evil, Annabelle and Ouija, The Babadook gives us hope for the horror genre.

  8. This movie had the hair on my arms stand up. Creepy and scary. What a great story. The pop up book is gonna be released. Yikes. Also, 5 stars.

  9. I love The Babadook’s exploration of psychological horror in the first part of the film. The idea of losing your mind because of insomnia is very real and something that freaks me out personally. I thought this movie was well-acted and directed for sure. I appreciated all of the subtext and how it made horror tropes feel fresh like you said. Once the mom turned from being the hero into the villain however, the picture got campy for me in a bad way, and it lost me. So although I enjoyed The Babadook, I’m not as crazy about it as many of my friends/colleagues are.

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