‘The Babadook‘ is a film that I’ve wanted to see for quite a while. I’m not a massive horror fan but I do tend to find myself scrolling through Netflix and ending up more often than not on their Horror page. Looking at ‘The Babadook’ reception online, I was expecting great things. It’s been a long time since I’ve been genuinely scared by a horror film and the 98% rating on a certain film review website led me to believe that this film had massive potential and a chance of being added to the elite list of films that have frightened me. It started brilliantly but the further we delved into the world of the Babadook, ironically, the less scared I became.
Amelia (Essie Davis) is a single mother, burdened with her only child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) after her husband is killed en route to the hospital on the night Samuel was born. Burdened may seem a strong word to use, but Samuel is not your normal child. He is obsessed with monsters and constantly drains Amelia of all her energy. One night, a mysterious children’s book appears on the bookshelf and naturally, Samuel decides this is the story he wants to hear before bed. The book acts as a gateway for the titular monster to cause the resulting terror for Amelia and Samuel.
As I said earlier this film starts really well and filled me with a lot of optimism. The first half of the film is brilliantly done. We never see the Babadook and the suspense is real. Dark shadows act as ominous threats as the film feels more like a psychological thriller than a horror flick. The openings scenes of the film focus more on Amelia’s struggle as a single parent. We buy into her story and we empathise with her. Her house is your stereotypical horror film house; rundown and dark with an extraordinary amount of long corridors. Amelia is at one with her surroundings, even to the extent that when strange things start happening in the house it acts as the catalyst for Amelia’s mental breakdown. It’s a premise that we’ve seen so many times, but in this instant it just felt that little bit different. Where the film begins to fall flat on its face however, is when we see the Babadook. It simply fails to deliver on an aesthetic level. Not once was I scared by the presence of our dark tormentor. The film quickly spirals into exactly what I didn’t want it to and became somewhat farcical as the closing credits began to run.
This is not to say that the performances from our leading mother and son are not noteworthy. Essie Davis is a convincing troubled mother, but it is the performance of Noah Wiseman as Samuel that should take the plaudits and indeed by the end of the film that is really the only overriding positive thing I can take from it. Samuel is a character that you are not supposed to like, and is supposed to tire you out to the extent to you feel the mother’s struggle alongside her. This is testament to Noah Wiseman’s performance as the troubled youngster. Through him we experience the real fear and suspense that I mentioned earlier and at just 7 years of age, we’ll see if Noah goes on to forge a successful acting career but on this evidence he seems like he may have a real chance as this is a performance of real quality.
All in all, this is not a film that will be added to my list of favourite horror films. A film that started off with so much promise started to peter out halfway through before radically descending into a messy and ridiculous horror film; indistinguishable from the stuff we’ve seen before, but even less effectively so. The only thesis I can mange to create to defend the film is that it isn’t a film intent on featuring terrifying monsters and making us jump out of our skin. It is instead a film about single motherhood and the dark challenges is poses for those in Amelia’s situation. If that is the case, then I feel it went about it the wrong way because as a horror film, I wanted to be scared a lot more. Actually, I wanted to be scared full stop.
DIRECTOR: JENNIFER KENT
STARRING: ESSIE DAVIS, NOAH WISEMAN