The Babadook ★★★½

Watched as part of my Hoop-Tober 2015 challenge

I promise I will not start every review in this challenge with the words "horror is not my favorite genre," but I do feel the need preface this project with a disclaimer: my ratings reflect what I perceive to be the overall quality of the film and its place in cinema history, not just how much I liked or disliked it. In fact, I might give a film five stars and never want to watch it again. I'm really not into monsters, zombies, slashers, ghosts, vampires and things that go bump in the night.

That said, this film felt like a fresh take on the old boogeyman-under-the-bed theme. Essie Davis plays working mum Amelia, a caregiver at a British nursing home. After seven years, she is still trying to cope with the tragic death of her husband, who was killed in an auto accident while driving her to the hospital to deliver her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Sam has grown up without a dad, and Amelia's single-parenting style has caused him some serious psychological dysfunction. He's anti-social, aggressively violent and obsessed with monsters ... kind of a mini Van Helsing.

When Amelia finds and reads to Sam a pop-up book called "Mister Babadook," home life takes a turn for the worse. The ghoulish storybook creature seems to be stalking them, gradually causing Sam to be expelled from school, mum to stay home from her job, Aunt Claire (Hayley McElhinney) to shun them, and social services to investigate. Only the kindly old woman next door, Mrs. Roach (Barbara West), seems to show much compassion for her troubled neighbors.

Davis takes her character through a full range of emotions, from tender mother to raging, shrieking bitch-mom from hell. Clearly, Amelia is damaged goods, trying ever so hard to hold it together and failing. I rather liked the psychological aspects of this, and the bogeyman she and her son face can be seen more as a metaphor for the devastating emptiness they feel than an actual monster. Indeed, the ending seems to support this point of view, although I found it a bit contrived.

Kudos to writer-director Jennifer Kent in her debut feature film. This bodes well for the former actress turned filmmaker, and I would not hesitate to watch whatever she comes up with next ... even if it's another (*gasp*) horror film.

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