The Babadook ★★★★

Like last year's THE CONJURING, this is a great film that reminds me of other great films. THE BABADOOK is horror via a metaphorical story-book monster; it manifests as an ink blot and swells into a tremulous, top-hatted figure of terror. It is grief personified, the symbolic representation of all the regret and guilt a mother had bottled up inside of her for years bursting outward. And, it's scary; that THE BABADOOK is more evocative of the iconic horror films of the '60s-'80s is key to its appeal. The scare factor comes not just from the eerily lit rooms of the house and creepy atmosphere, but also the palpable sense of looming dread, in true psychological fashion.

THE BABADOOK is a great modern horror film because it feels as effectively derivative as it does freshly new. Through fluid and inspired filmmaking Jennifer Kent presents a movie that's as resonantly emotional as it is gutsily scary: it pays respects to films like THE OMEN, THE SHINING, and POLTERGEIST, while also stepping forward on its own path. And yet, though featuring excellent performances in Essie Davis as a mother exorcising her demons, and Noah Wisemen as her affected, misunderstood son, THE BABADOOK isn't meant to be read as a clinical unveiling. Though it understands that grief and depression are powerful, consuming forces that are massively difficult to control, it is forced to simplify deep concepts into easier ideas in order to make its point. The conceit of the story-book is harrowing, and comes with a cool fatalistic element, but it's also...basic. The film adopts a necessarily serviceable fantastical hue and while this doesn't hinder its success holistically, it prevents an otherwise great film from being a classic.

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