Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
It was a close run thing this year, leaving it until November (well in the UK at least) to arrive but finally a great horror film has found its way to us for 2014. Jennifer Kent blends together a cross-section of child, psychological and haunted house horror to chilling effect, relying on the old adage that more is less for the majority of its run time.
The films own website references the Polanski heritage that can be found within this dark domestic tale and influences from his 'apartment trilogy' are there for all to see. However that is where any hint of duplication begins and ends, the craft behind and in front of the camera turning a classic Grimm-style fairytale into something fresh and absorbing.
Performances from Noah Wiseman, 6-year-old nightmare child Samuel, and frazzled mother Amelia (Essie Davis) create a believable friction between the pair, the narrative initially slanted toward sympathising more with mum. She is a parent on her last nerve trying to cope with a child who refuses to sleep alone at night, terrified by the thought of monsters hiding in the shadows. Amelia herself cannot find the space or time to rest whilst also still coming to terms with the passing of her husband a year previously.
When the Mister Babadook bedtime story appears on Samuel's shelf the nightmare of both their realities is tragically brought to the surface. Kent precariously walks the line of ambiguity, clouding the air so we can never quite tell what is real or make believe. The mood shifts from one side of the room to the other morphing the parental fears of a mother with the grieving, frustrated role of a wife.
How Kent quietly frames the entire film compliments the ever more intense performance of Davis, shadowing the fragmenting of her mental state. She doesn't rely on jump scares or musical cues to lead us to the horror, instead allowing the claustrophobic space inside the house to envelop us. The architectural design around them ties into the Gothic pop-up book causing this disturbance. With the credits rolling the question of whether Mister Babadook exists as metaphor or supernatural reality will continue to churn over in your mind.
What Kent touches on here reaches down further than your standard horror flick. Amelia loves and resents her own child for what they have lost and what she continues to. A heavy emotional weight rests on this small family and we are asked to share a small portion of their burden, reminding us that there are some monsters that can never be fully exorcised.