The Babadook ★★★★

The Babadook is one of the most tiring films I've ever witnessed. At first, that statement may seem like its a bash to it -- that I didn't enjoy it. But it's quite the contrary. It's tiring because it runs you through the mill trying to evoke the same daily irritation felt by Sam's mom Amelia (Essie Davis). He's (one of) the most hyperactive kid you will ever see, and it takes the patience of a saint (and maybe not even then) to deal with his antics.

Of these antics, none are more obsessive than his fear of "The Babadook" which stems from a book that he guilted his mom into reading him. Because she realizes the book is going to disturb her mentally unstable son, she wants to choose a different book to read, but he insists that she keep reading it because she said he could choose the book. Saying no to him would only cause a bigger fit, so she reads on, even with him crying and screaming at the tail end of the book.

What's within the book seems to be a gothic metaphor for the relationship of Sam (Noah Wiseman) and his mother. Not that Sam understands this, he's just an easily excited child that's scared at the monstrous character. He soon finds out that the character he's scared of is a manifestation of his mother's psyche: heartache from losing her husband, dealing with the rejection of everyone because of Sam, and coping with Sam's behavior in general.

Amelia realizes this as she develops a obsession about the book, but denies to herself these dark feelings represent her inner resentment to her son. It really piques your interest because it's unlike anything we've seen before. Usually it's the dad that has to cope with a distraught child after the mother died from labor, but here, it's the dad that died from an accident driving Amelia to deliver Sam. You have to praise first time director Jennifer Kent for thinking outside the box with that and giving us a great psychological study of woman rather than man.

As the story continues to unravel, the book continues to change, creating even more paranoia in Amelia and Sam; Amelia even starts to think it's someone stalking them when in fact it's only her denial that's stalking them. The more she doesn't believe in the Babadook as Sam does, the more Sam's frightened by its presence.

Throughout the film, we don't see it, but Sam continually screams from seeing it, and eventually so does his mother. But it's merely from their imagination. As the story continues though, more characteristics of the fabled monster seep into Amelia, and start to taunt the screen -- fully completing the metaphor of her inner angst.

But we then lay eyes on the Babadook in their dreary house as Amelia takes a stand against it, and eventually defeating it and keeping it seemingly tamed in the house because you can't ever get rid of it, as described in the book. But I question if there really is a Babadook in the end. It seems that the final reveal was just a mechanism to physically represent Amelia's motherly side finally prevailing over her resentment that overcame her. And like many parents do, she plays along with Sam's belief in the Babadook as a tangible thing, and pretends that she's tamed the beast in the end. It's a little ambiguous and at first seems real, but there's enough evidence to support it as just a representation.

The film really isn't all that scary aside from the fright of seeing the psychology of a parent on screen portrayed so well. Davis does an incredible job as Amelia, pulling out all the stops. She's easy to sympathize in the beginning, but her transformation is really the most resounding aspect of her performance: really pulling in some aspects from Jack Nicholson in The Shining and a bit of Piper Laurie from Carrie. Something also needs to be said of Wiseman as Sam. He plays annoying better than anyone else, though a lot must be said of the screenplay as well that really pushed all of my buttons like it tests Amelia.

Though the film is a freshman effort, I'm quite impressed by the control Kent has over the aesthetic storytelling. Just as much as Amelia and Sam, or the few supporting characters, and the Babadook, the house acts as another character. It's infinitely dreary with muted tones; colors are all suppressed and represent the depression that's built in Amelia. The sound design is also quite a feat, creating even more suspense and dread coupled with an excellent brooding score.

There's definitely some hyperbolic reviews out there that really made me feel this would just be for a niche audience, but it's really an excellent film all around that I'm glad I came out enjoying so much.

Sean liked this review