The Babadook ★★★★

Jennifer Kent's debut film is a great little film with real metaphorical depth, depicting the supernatural in a low-key way that ramps the dread gradually to almost unbearable levels.

Part fable, part psychodrama, part haunted house, part character study; The Babadook is about Amelia (Essie Davis), a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident driving her to hospital to give birth to their son Samuel (Noah Wiseman). Seven years have passed and she is still gnawed by grief and guilt, as it is obvious she resents Samuel. These feelings are compounded by his behavioural problems. He is very clingy and has been excluded from school for taking homemade weapons into class that are meant to combat the monsters he is convinced are stalking him.

His trauma gets worse after he asks Amelia to read him a children's book entitled 'Mister Babadook' that has mysteriously appeared on the shelf. The story is a pop-up book and is a threatening tale of an undertaker-like demonic figure that will stalk his victims until he can get under their skin.

The joy of this film is how the Babadook is so representative of the real, unbearable weight of grief. Even after years, Amelia hasn't adjusted, and Samuel's clingy nature is presented in such a way that we can't help but sympathise with her feelings towards him. He's a strange, other-worldy presence and the Babadook's grisly prophecy seems inevitable. Essie Davis is remarkable as Amelia. Her frayed beauty reminds me a little of Marion Cotillard's in Two Days, One Night, both ground down by mental issues and their parental competence compromised.

Whether the Babadook exists or not is open to interpretation. He's seen in soft-focus, flitting in the edges of Amelia's vision. I think the ending leans towards the Babadook being a pure allegory for Amelia's post-natal trauma and her resentment at Samuel for surviving when her husband didn't. After all, whether it's in a word, or in a book, you can't get rid of the Babadook.

I admired this film greatly. It is constantly eerie yet restrained in the manner of films like The Others and The Orphanage, yet I never felt scared by it, and it failed to really lodge in my subconscious, which is why I haven't rated it higher. It is however, marvellously assured filmmaking with pitch-perfect cinematography.

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