The Babadook ★★★★

"The Babadook" is not your average horror movie. There are plenty of jump-scare moments, but the film is much deeper than that and is gripping on an emotional level as well. It's more psychologically horrifying than anything else, as the film poses serious questions about what it means to be a mother in a very complex and disturbing situation.

The film opens with a horrific car accident scene that is so well put together it's hard to believe that first-time director Jennifer Kent pulled it off. This introduces us to Amelia and her husband, who are on their way to the hospital to deliver their first child when the awful crash occurs. Amelia's husband is killed, and we cut to six years later as Amelia cares for her son Samuel alone. Samuel has quite the imagination and constructs homemade weapons to defeat the monster that appears in his dreams, and when a mysterious book about a creature called The Babadook appears on their doorstep and Amelia starts to see things herself, the spooky stuff begins.

While "The Babadook" certainly exists in the world of the film, it's really just a manifestation of Amelia's fears of raising her son alone. The film spends most of its running time showing us how difficult it is for Amelia to deal with her son, and the relationship between the two of them could not be more complex. She of course loves Samuel, as any mother would, but there's also resentment since her husband died while en route to deliver him.

As Samuel becomes more of a handful for his mother, her visions and interactions with the mysterious Babadook creature grow more frequent. There's a direct coorelation between Amelia's psyche and the presence of the Babadook, so the horror can be interpreted as evidence of her deteriorating mental state. Amelia is overworked as is, so when she comes home to Samuel's antics, she's essentially pulling overtime — it never stops.

Essie Davis is fantastic as Amelia, and while Noah Wiseman's performance as Samuel felt a little wooden at times, it gets the job done. Davis can express volumes with simply a look, and it's impossible not to feel for her and wish you could just give her a great big hug. A lead performance this captivating is hard to come by in the genre and really raises the stakes.

Technically speaking, "The Babadook" is incredibly well-shot and gorgeous to look at. There are countless sequences that stuck with me and Kent makes tons of intriguing stylistic choices throughout the film; her editing is lively and demands attention. The photography is often chilling in itself, and inanimate elements like hallways and open doors suddenly become menacing and dreadful. The horror elements work themselves into the film naturally and never feel out of place despite the fact that the film is more often than not an intense character study of a troubled single mother.

"The Babadook" is an exceptional horror film that has enough jump-scares to satisfy horror laymen and plenty going on beneath the surface to appeal to the arthouse crowd as well.