David Jenkins’s review published on Letterboxd:
2014 has been a good year for movies in general but the horror genre from what I have seen so far has been woefully represented. Luckily Jennifer Kent has come along with her Australian chiller ‘The Babadook’ and given the genre the treatment it deserves.
The film focuses on a seemingly broken family with a mother who almost resents her own child. His abnormal personality traits and irrational fear of monsters is almost driving her to the edge of despair. After reading him the bedtime story Mister Badadook however she also begins to feel a lurking presence in the background. Things aren’t quite what they seemed and she begins to unhinge as she question the existence of real monsters. The film leaves certain things up to our own interpretation which was the clever way to play things out. Amelia and her son Samuel aren’t a perfect family to begin with and the trauma they experienced earlier in their lives is only accentuated by the presence of Mister Babadook. The significance of this ghoulish figure is cleverly interwoven into the narrative and the ending left me satisfied that this story actually meant something. There is certainly more than meets the eye underneath the surface of this film with an almost ingenious deeper meaning to proceedings. This is not just your average monster story.
‘The Babadook’ is far and away the best horror film of the year. It contains a cleverly written narrative with a slow-burn sense of building dread ominously in the background. The sound editing in the film is near perfect and keeps the tone of the film suitably creepy. Most horror films today are trying to scare us in the wrong ways. They want the audience to jump and most of them are content with achieving that and nothing more. Jennifer Kent builds her scares through making your whole body tingle and shiver. On more than one occasion I felt goosebumps on my arm and a cold shiver run down my back. The presence of Mister Babadook is slowly integrated with the right amount of suspense and when the film reaches its final act it still maintains the same bone-chilling effect. It also helps that you care about the characters and the danger they are in. Essie Davis delivers a powerful performance as the vulnerable mother with Noah Wiseman’s suitably annoying performance as her son Samuel somehow endearing.
In all honesty, this isn’t really a revelation for the genre or breaking any new ground. It is however easily the smartest and eerily effective horror film of the year. From the titular character’s pop-up book to the chilling sounds it makes from the darkest corners of the room, there is a consistent sinister tone throughout the film. The blues and greys of the visual pallet compliment this tone perfectly delivering an aesthetic that feels like one of Tim Burton’s darkest nightmares. Despite never forcing me to jolt out of my seat Jennifer Kent effectively got under my skin and terrified me with her gothic horror story. She delivered exactly what I want from a horror film. A sense of dread and terror that leaves you second guessing what it was in the corner of your eye or what lurks in the darkest shadows. Whilst films like ‘Annabelle’ shout “BOO!”, ‘The Babadook’ ominously creeps up on you to deliver its chilling blow.