The Babadook ★★★★

Jennifer Kent's nuanced and chilling "The Babadook" is a horror film that works as well on a figurative level as it does a on a level that is visceral and concrete. The tale of a storybook monster who preys on a single mother and her son, the film is rewarding in its metaphors and thrilling in its onscreen horrors. It is an emotionally charged, sophisticated, and expertly crafted genre outing.

Kent, from her own screenplay, tells the story of a woman and her young son haunted by a mysterious presence lurking in the shadows of their home and on the pages of a storybook. Coping with the loss of her husband, the woman is harried, stretched to the breaking point by her fragile child and the unending pain of her husband's death. The situation turns horrifying when the babadook, a creature that would be at home in the canon of Edward Gorey, begins to stalk the woman.

On its narrative surface, "The Babadook" is the compelling story of wayfaring monster looking for souls and bodies to destroy. Deeper though, the story gains its real power. Kent, with horror film conventions, is observing a woman coping with loss and watching as that loss, and the inability to move forward, have become things that haunt her. These things threaten to overcome her and change her, turning her from caring mother into a ruined and ruinous human being. It is in this metaphor that Kent finds the film's true strength and statement.

Kent builds a production that revels in the textures and sounds of the mundane but transforms them into the cinematic stuff of horror. Crow's feet around the protagonists eyes, textured bedspreads, writhing tree limbs, and knocks on doors become sights and sounds made to chill. Kent composes shots that peer down doorways and corridors, searching for the things that go bump in the night. Her color palette is overcast and shadowed. With the babadook, either suggested or real, the film becomes rewardingly nightmarish.

With its evocative cast, strong story, and even more evocative suggestions and stronger direction, "The Babadook" results in a smart and gripping experience. Built to spook with its sights and sounds while provoking thought with its themes, the film is solid, satisfying, and one of 2014's most accomplished horror films.

Travis liked these reviews