“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the babadook…”
For Amelia (Essie Davis) every day is a challenge. Made increasingly difficult by her six-year-old son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam is an affectionate, energetic and boisterous little boy, wise beyond his years, avoided at school for being weird (potentially hyperactive) and between his obsession with magic, his preoccupation with keeping his mother safe from ‘monsters’ and his sleeplessness; he is – to put it mildly – hard work. His upcoming seventh birthday also happens to coincide with his father Oskar’s (Benjamin Winspear) violent death, a loss Amelia has yet to fully come to terms with. She is vacant, restless and on autopilot juggling single parenthood, her job as a carer, and looking in on elderly neighbour Grace Roach (Barbara West). A one-time children’s author, Amelia is able to quell Samuel’s night-time fears usually with a bedtime story until he selects Mister Babadook from the bookshelf. “It’s okay mum,” the brave little soldier declares “I’ll protect you.”
The Babadook is actress/writer Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut, made for reportedly just $2.3 million and based upon her 2005 short Monster. Its cinematic palette takes its cues from the blue-black, white and grey of a pencil drawing and visually, the film’s fairy tale simplicity works incredibly well on the screen. It is rich, nostalgic yet somehow timeless and paints a deeply emotional and visceral gothic picture in which an audience is subject to the inside of the protagonist’s mind (think of a much subtler and aesthetically prettier The Shining). We see a relatable woman engulfed by grief, drowning under the weight of motherhood, and exhausted in the malevolence of depression. This verisimiliar performance steeped in empathy is testament to the supremely talented Davis who is as consistently wonderful as always (see in particular HBO’s Cloudstreet). However, in her Amelia we see complexity, a melancholic soul with an unravelling mind; her ferocity for life, love, even survival has been stifled, buried deeply.
The emotional profundity of this fabulous film makes it wholly affecting – an internal demon which manifests to test the protagonist’s strength. Whether she stands up, cowers, screams in its face or fights for her freedom remains to be seen. It may let her go…this time or as the childish rhyme suggests, it may never be vanquished. Go and experience The Babadook, it will touch you, scare you, get under your skin and remain there. It will make you feel, it may even cause you to shed a tear – honestly, when was the last time a horror film did that?
The Babadook opens nationwide on 24th October 2014
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