Even though rumors about “The Babadook” have been swirling since before the show was released and have only grown more fervent since, I had never heard anything regarding plot, characters, goriness, whatever, just that it was really damn scary. That’s just how I like to go into a movie: Nearly clueless about what I’m about to experience, just that it will definitely be worth my time. I can tell you now like they told me, this uber creepy purebred horror flick out of Australia really delivers the goods. If you’re up for it, I’d really suggest following my lead and watching it alone, late at night with all the lights out. It’s a little gimmicky but it really sets the mood, and I bet you don’t remember the last time you went down to the basement and turned out all the lights to watch a horror movie. Be a kid, be terrified, and by God don’t read any books that mysteriously show up on top of your dresser. Because if it’s in a word or it’s in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook!
I’m just gonna go straight for the jugular here. “The Babadook” is damn scary any way you slice it. The direction is spectacular; Jennifer Kent did everything right, whether it was getting the actors to do their thing, getting the lighting and settings right, moving the camera to just that right spot, or knowing the perfect times to show that goddamn Babadook, visually this movie is awesome. Now here’s the problem: the story is really not that compelling. If this movie falters anywhere, it’s their. Now, I will fully admit as I often do, that maybe I just didn’t get the whole thing. Maybe I missed some last piece of the puzzle, but honestly I think the way the story tried to wrap up in the final act almost stabbed the movie in the back. The premise as the movie went just built and built. Every moment was more tense than the next. Even when we got some relief, some player would go and f it up again, spiraling us back into darkness and fear. And that was great. But then, the end came around and just felt disjointed. I’m perfectly fine with leaving some questions unanswered, but that was not the idea here. No, it seemed like every question would be answered, only with a bit of disregard as to whether the audience understood the answer. This is meant purely as constructive criticism here. Sure, I didn’t like the end, but I’m not saying it was wrong. I’m just saying I think that a lot of what made the monster so scary was that you didn’t know what it was, or where it came from, or how to stop it.
Okay, back to business as usual here. The basic plot of “The Babadook” centers on Sam and his mother, a young family that was robbed of their father and husband because of an accident when Sam was born. That bit comes back throughout the movie and is an important piece of background information. Well, Sam is a bit strange to begin with, but he gets a little weirder when he starts seeing things and building weapons to protect his mother from a monster. We finally find out what the kid is talking about when he asks his mother to read him a bedtime story, and in good horror movie cliché fashion, little Sammy wants to read the world’s most terrifying children’s book. Everything in the book suddenly begins to haunt the young family, driven by the titular Babadook. Is he a man, a monster, or just a figment of everyone’s imagination? We don’t really know, but we do know he’s here to stay.
There are quite a few solid actors in the movie, but obviously our two main protagonists stand out in our mind. Sam, played by first timer Noah Wiseman, is absolutely perfect as the creepy kid with a monster in his closet that no one will acknowledge. He goes through some seriously terrifying stuff, and plays it like a champ. The seizure scene is no joke, and all times where he sees things just off camera had my hair standing on end and my knuckles white. Terrific stuff from a young kid, but I worry if the filming was in any way scarring. Alongside Noah, Essie Davis plays the exhausted but loving mother Amelia. She does her job well and plays a very believable haunted single mother. While I didn’t dig some of the “going crazy” scenes, it’s probably because Ms. Davis played them so convincingly. Fun fact, and it took IMDB to point this out to me, but Ms. Davis is also the unrivaled ‘Ms. Fisher’ of “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”, a staple of PBS at my house.
“The Babadook” is in no way a “fun” movie, but it is a must see for any genre fan. I’ll let my issues with the story slide when I give two big thumbs up for the constant feeling of dread and anxiety you are under for the full ninety minute run time. I think it narrowly missed out on that upper echelon of truly scary movies inhabited by the likes of “The Exorcist”, but Ms. Kent made a dazzling attempt. I’d say with a lot of certainty that this was the scariest movie I’ve seen in the last five years, and I won’t go back further only because I don’t feel like doing my research. It will be hard to sleep. You will have nightmares. And you will love every minute of it, or curse me for suggesting it. I was getting goosebumps just writing about it, that’s how genuinely creepy it was. Now I’ll leave you with the sound that will haunt those who know, and entice the uninitiated:
Ba… ba… dook! Dook! DOOOK!