Clever thing about The Babadook – it’s a film that sets its own genre rules and pushes each rule, and each member of the audience, to the edge. The Babadook: the phrase just kind of rolls off the tongue.
The Babadook is an Australian horror film that doesn’t feel foreign. Certainly The Babadook unwinds more like a psychological thriller, slowly showing its cards until you realize it is a horror film. (Think Don’t Look Now or The Exorcist, both perhaps not oddly from 1973.) The Babadook is a low budget film that doesn’t look low budget, so clever are the images and editing and angles.
In fact the writer/director Jennifer Kent even used $30K she raised on Kickstarter, although the majority of funds were provided by other Australian entities. Kent also spent time of the set of Lars von Trier’s Dogville as an assistant and has a lengthy resume of acting roles (including Babe: Pig in the City). It’s obvious even in this her first feature that Kent understands pacing, camera set-ups and structure to the extent that she’s turned out a movie classic in her first at bat.
The Babadook revolves around two main characters, a widower (Essie Davis) and her hysterical young son (Noah Wiseman). The first half of the movie might throw some people off since Wiseman spends most of his screen time screaming and acting crazy, which causes constant torment for his mother. Wiseman constantly kicks the seats of the car whenever it’s in motion; he also pushes his cousin out of the tree house breaking her nose in two places. Wiseman must have hyperventilated just from all the hard breathing his character displays. Likewise Davis reveals a woman slowly going mad from having to deal with the public and private behavior of her son. He creeps silently into her room at night while she’s touching herself and then scares the hell out of her. She starts to doubt her own sanity as their behavior patterns slowly switch.
Then there is a mysterious children’s book called The Babadook that seems to portend shadowy events that lurk in the subconscious. Davis even tears up the book but it appears on the front steps sewn together the next day, it’s arrival preceded by loud unexplained banging sounds.
Some other films that come to mind after watching The Babadook are Repulsion and the better parts of recent scare fests like Insidious and The Conjuring. The Babadook is unwinding in an exclusive engagement starting this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park.
- Michael Bergeron