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Friday, 7 November 2014

The Babadook (2014)

By and large I avoid most Australian films, since I find the accent both grating and often difficult to understand. In fact we could have selected the above movie as one of our choices at the recent FrightFest, but did not include it for that reason. However the generally amazing reviews it has garnered on its cinema release caused an immediate reappraisal for this fan of all things 'horror-able'. Having now seen it, let me state categorically that it provides truly creepy viewing and is destined to become a cult classic.

A freshman effort from writer-director Jennifer Kent, this low-budget but big-impact film focuses on conflicted mother Amelia, brilliantly embodied by Essie Davis, who is desperately trying to raise her genuinely disturbed and annoying son. Widowed when her husband was killed in a car accident while driving her to hospital to give birth to young Sam (a fact which the boy cheerfully advises to all and sundry), she is easily aggravated, sleep-deprived, and struggling to cope with her son's night terrors and disruptive behaviour at school and in public. A picture-book titled 'Mister Babadook' mysteriously appears on his bed-time reading shelf and it takes but one reading of the terrifying tale, which predicts death and disaster, for the boy to become convinced that this threat is real and that the Babadook does indeed inhabit every shadowy nook. Child actor Noah Wiseman gives a scary performance that could leave any child well and truly traumatised. 

Sam is determined to protect his mother from this fearsome creature and before long Amelia too begins to believe that something truly disturbing is looming in the darkness. She soon begins to lose her grip on reality, experiencing phantom phone calls and the reappearance of the mended book after she has carefully torn it to shreds and burned it. It does not displace one's rational belief in the nonexistence of monsters, that we too see her fears take shape in the form of the terrifying Babadook. The film's horror is far more psychological than the gleeful frissons we experience in viewing a bunch of typical teens being picked off one by one. Amelia finds that her long-standing resentment of the son who caused her husband's death begins to morph into physical hatred of the youngster. She is finally unable to cope. The child who begins the film as the bratty object of our disgust, causing us to sympathise with his harassed mum, turns into the object of our pity as we fear for his physical safety.

Without wishing to spoil the film's logic, one begins to suspect that Amelia was herself the author of the fiendish book, a way of making concrete her own worries and disappointments. In the end (spoiler here) the status quo can only be resumed by locking away the terror (real or otherwise) in the cellar that also houses all of her dead husband's chattels. The final images, however, suggest that the Babadook that any of us might create is alive and well and looking for his re-release.

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