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Review: The Babadook

The Babadook
9 10

PLOT: A single mother, struggling with an unruly son, is suddenly confronted with a storybook called The Babadook, which slowly but surely inserts itself into her psyche and sends her spiraling out of control.

REVIEW: Jennifer Kent's THE BABADOOK is as good as you've heard by now; a startling, eerie and nerve-wracking suspense tale that is also a deeply affecting drama about struggling with loss and the frequent terror of being parent. (Full disclosure: I'm not a parent, and now I'm not sure I want to be one, thanks to THE BABADOOK.) It features two excellent performances, as well as announces a brilliant new voice in cinema, a director so in control of her story that she handily steers her audience's emotions this way and that like a true veteran. THE BABADOOK is her first film.

The title derives from a storybook existing inside the home of Amelia (Essie Davis), a harried single mother still reeling from the untimely death of her husband. Amelia is saddled with Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a ghoulishly hyper-active adolescent with a penchant for needy whining and borderline psychotic meltdowns. Samuel has an imagination as intense as his outbursts, and The Babadook - a shadowy creature who preys on young children - captures it so thoroughly that he imagines it has manifested inside their house. After unsuccessfully trying to persuade her son that it's just a book, Amelia is gradually driven beyond the edge by mysterious apparitions and noises. She is losing her mind, surely, but is "The Babadook" really to blame, or something even more dire?

Simple enough premise for a horror feature, and on that level it works perfectly. Kent's visual style starts off necessarily pedestrian; the suburban ennui of Amelia's life is explored in simple, unflashy terms. But as the suspense escalates and Amelia finds herself trapped in a nightmarish world of uncertain reality, Kent dials up the creepout factor, delivering a series of bleak, shadow-strewn set-pieces that would make Edward Gorey and Edgar Allan Poe proud. As we approach the climax and Amelia has just about lost her grip entirely, the film feels so claustrophobic and, frankly, awful, that you almost can't wait to escape its clutches - even as you're stuck to the screen thanks to how damn good it is at tweaking your emotions.

Alternately, THE BABADOOK is a stunning - and bold - look at the agonies of motherhood, particularly single motherhood. The trials and tribulations of Amelia even before The Babadook appears in her life will most likely be recognizable to anyone who has had to deal with an unmanageable child, and though the Samuel is perhaps a bit more burdensome than most children, the climb of Amelia's stress-level is nothing short of devastating to behold.

Let's just say right now that Essie Davis deserves an Oscar nomination for her harrowing performance. She won't get one because, while lauded, THE BABADOOK will still foolishly be written off as just a horror movie, which anyone paying attention will devise simply isn't the case. Davis' commanding presence anchors the movie and connects the dramatic elements to the horrific ones, and along with her son we watch in growing despair how the presence of The Babadook transforms her into something utterly chilling. And if we are to label THE BABADOOK as "just a horror movie," then Davis gives one of the great modern horror movie performances; I can't recall the last time I was so impressed with an actor I had never heard of before.

We shouldn't slight Noah Wiseman. The young man, in his feature debut, is simply exceptional as a character you frankly can't stomach initially, but progressively grow to care about. As THE BABADOOK brilliantly twists the screws on its plot, it shifts our sympathies from Davis' character to Wiseman's, and the kid nails every scene. There's a moment toward the end of the film where he's pleading with his deranged mother to stop what she's doing (I won't tell you what she's doing) that is heartbreaking, and we find we cannot believe there was a time (not long ago) when we were rooting for this poor child to get the ever-loving crap beat out of him. (Sorry, but it's true.)

Those actors combined with Kent's immaculate handling of the material make for a singularly memorable piece of cinema; THE BABADOOK is frightening, alright, and in ways that you won't even know until you see it for yourself, but there are more than just scares lurking underneath the veneer. It's easily one of the best films of the year.

Source: JoBlo.com



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