The Babadook ★★★★

The Babadook is not a typical horror film. In fact, I think it might be more appropriate to call it a dark fairytale than a horror film. Instead of relying on gore or standard horror film gimmicks to scare, it presents a story of psychological terror where your mind creates what is scary.

The story is about a widowed, single mother and her 7-year-old emotionally troubled and rambunctious son whose lives get turned upside-down when they discover a mysterious pop-up book titled Mister Babadook on the shelf and read it. The story of Mister Babadook is one in which a bogeyman creature threatens the reader and promises that he or she will hope to be dead instead of be face to face with the Babadook.

The boy decides that the Babadook is real and becomes even more difficult to manage for his already stressed-out mother. He throws tantrums, causing them both not to get much-needed sleep. After a few sleepless nights and odd occurrences around their home, the mother begins to question if the Babadook is a figment of her son's imagination or if perhaps a dark presence does exist inside their home.

The Babadook is about mental anguish and how it can become worse if it is not addressed properly. The beauty of the film is how controlled filmmaker Jennifer Kent presents the story. The story builds smartly and organically so that you care about and empathize with the characters. And when the film ends, instead of having a concrete resolve like so many horror films provide, you are left to determine on your own if the Babadook is real or not.

A strong theme in the film is on gender and how the expectation of women being ever-loving care providers can be harmful to women. In the name of being the ideal wife, mother or sister, women often suppress their dark feelings.

Film lovers will appreciate all of the old film references within The Babadook--among them Georges Méliès' A Trip to the Moon--with the Babadook conjuring Max Schreck's Nosferatu and Lon Chaney's Professor Burke.

Refreshingly smart, The Babadook places its characters and message about dealing with mental anguish first and scaring the viewer second.

[Seen as part of the New Directors/New Films Series curated by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Museum of Modern Art]

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