The Babadook ★★★★★

October movie review #2

"If it's in a word, or it's in a look... you can't get rid of the Babadook."

Not to be a hipstery little shit about this, but I discovered The Babadook way before the internet at large did. Yeah, it had a pretty good reputation going for it already, having picked up some festival buzz and a number of glowing reviews from critics. But it was still kind of an underdog, and not The Best Horror Movie Since (insert last Best Horror Movie). I think that’s why I get pretty defensive about this one, especially in the face of the backlash from people saying, “Yeah, it was good, but not that good.”

Because let me be clear; it is that good. The Babadook 100% deserves its title as The Best Horror Movie Since (insert last Best Horror Movie, which in this case I guess would either be The Conjuring or Afflicted). The Babadook is a tense, psychologically astute, bone-chillingly terrifying horror film about motherhood; specifically, it’s a horror movie about a mother who can’t quite come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t love her son.

The mother is Amelia, and she’s played by Essie Davis in one of those performances that’s so good, you can’t quite believe she wasn’t immediately accepted into the Horror Cannon of great female leads, alongside the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis or Heather Langenkamp. When we meet her, she’s still in the process of recovery. We infer that her husband died the night she gave birth to her son, and she is fundamentally not coping with it at all, going so far as to subliminally blame her son.

The son is Samuel, as played by Noah Wiseman. Believe it or not, there are those out there who were annoyed by this kid, blamed the movie, and thought he displayed “bad acting.” I have to assume these people have never been around an actual child. I love the way the film plays our sympathies and allegiances like a violin; initially, we're firmly on Amanda's side, eventually becoming as desperate as she is to "deal with" her son. But she gets nastier and nastier, our noses are rubbed further and further into the fact that Samuel is, and always has been, a little boy who misses his dad.

Des Kenneally, Frank Lipson and Peter D. Smith are credited with the sound design on this movie, and I just have to say that their work is phenomenal. Anyone who knows anything about the horror genre knows that sound is one of the most important things to get right, as well as one of the hardest. The Babadook has perfect sound. The sneaking, crackling noises that the monster makes whenever it advances will chill even the most hardened of horror fans to the bone. There's something primal about the fear this movie evokes, an elemental fight-or-flight kind of terror that reminded me of being a child, in my bedroom, still afraid of the dark.

This is, to me, the very best kind of horror movie. It’s psychologically affecting, with a deep understanding of the interior dimensions of all its characters, and a clear understanding of how to translate that into a rewarding emotional experience. It's got pitch-perfect cinematography, with Radek Ładczuk providing a distinct and engagingly chilly look to the film. But more than anything else, it is genuinely scary in a way few films are anymore. It’s a rich, atmospheric masterclass in sustained tension, brilliantly performed by all.

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