The Babadook ★★★★½

The Babadook has been tagged as a horror film, but the horrors it deals with may not be as obvious as you first think as its story gradually unravels. This is a very clever film deserving of the high praise it has been receiving.

When the film opens, writer/director Jennifer Kent allows us to spend plenty of time with the two main characters, single mother Amelia and her son Samuel. In a horrible twist of fate, Samuel's father died in a car crash driving his pregnant wife to hospital to deliver their baby. As a result of this, Amelia has to juggle her job, her son and her deeply repressed emotions all on her own. Samuel is a deeply troubled child, bullied and excluded from school, he prefers to live in imaginary worlds filled with dangerous monsters. When Samuel chooses an unfamiliar bedtime story one night, the pair learn of The Babadook, a monster that grows bigger and stronger the more you ignore it and from then on, their lives are turned upside down.

The Babadook's success lies in how superbly well it blends together its influences to come up with an approach that's new and incredibly effective. I was surprised by the first film that sprung to mind, We Need To Talk About Kevin. The first half of The Babadook focuses on the strains placed on Amelia by Samuel's behaviour and it really forces you to understand her mindset as she struggles to cope in much the same way as We Need To Talk About Kevin did with Eva, Kevin's mother. It's a brutal and exhausting existence and without this set up the rest of the film just wouldn't work. As the film goes on, the realistic psychological battery is joined by a blurring of reality influenced by The Shining and Jacob's Ladder and supernatural elements from The Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm Street. It all adds up to a relentless, oppressive threat that tortures Amelia and Samuel throughout the second half of the film and leaves the viewer almost as drained as the protagonists.

As good as the story and the direction is, huge credit must be given to Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman in the central roles. They are absolutely magnificent and work together wonderfully well in swinging viewer's sympathy one way and the other between the two while remaining utterly believable and integral to the film's success.

The Babadook is a hugely impressive debut from Kent, it may even be held in as high a regard as the films that have influenced it in due time.

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