The Babadook review

“If it’s in a word, or in a look, you can’t get rid of the Babadook.”  The haunting rhyme that pervades the film sets the tone so effectively that I couldn’t think of anything better to open this review.  “The Babadook” is a terrifying entity, one of the most fearsome I’ve encountered in film for when it enters it uses the familial bonds as its most potent weapon.

“The Babadook” is an amazing film, dreadfully uncomfortable on so many levels and rightfully so.   Like the entity, the film takes its time to build up to a furious finale.  The film is so fantastic that at many times it forces us to even question if there is even an entity.  This dogged question pervades the narrative quite effectively.  Is there really a Babadook? Or is Samuel (Noah Wiseman) manufacturing all of this to gain the attention of his grief stricken mother Amelia (Essie Davis, “The Matrix Revolutions”)?  The seeds of this doubt are a wonderful thread to pull and ponder for a while, as is the dynamic of the family.

To be honest, when the film first began I did find Samuel’s behavior annoying, but I quickly moved past that.  I work with special needs and developmentally delayed children so I understand that escalated behavior is just another means of communication.  Once I placed Samuel’s behavior into that concept the film gelled in an entirely different manner.  I mean honestly, just think for a moment; how might a child develop if raised in an environment perpetually drenched in barely repressed hostile grief for seven years?  I think that there is a huge chance the child would be a little “off.”  Amelia’s grief is so raw she refuses to even talk about her husband, his death, or even celebrate her son’s birthday as it coincides with the day her husband died.  I would say this would inflict significant emotional and developmental trauma upon a child.

Now, enter into this algid environment a terrifying supernatural force capable of coopting the same familial bonds that should offer protection and solace and turning them into realms of terror.  This is not a film concerned with high body count or excessive well-designed gore, instead this would be a film on par with “The Woman in Black,” a great gateway film for youth into the horror genre, save for pervasive language and a scene or two that pushes the rating.  “The Babadook” stresses psychological horror and intimates more than it actually shows.  What it does choose to show is exceptional.

Of all the questions posed by “The Babadook” the most important is: how do you fight something that can penetrate familial bonds therefore making it lethal to defeat the Babadook?  There is no easy way out offered and the struggle to find a viable solution is exciting.  The ending that writer/director Jennifer Kent arrived at is one of the most original and bold endings I have witnessed.  I believe that it truly suited this amazing film and brought the narrative to a unique conclusion.

Everything in this film works.  Samuel’s behavior has a narrative function, the design of the Babadook, though only glimpsed, is truly horrifying, the tone is uncomfortable and isolating, the acting by Wiseman and Davis anchor their characters in a realm of believability, and the sound design and editing bring it all to life in a spine chilling way.  I had heard such great things about “The Babadook” that I just bought it in order to see it, and I have to say it was a purchase I absolutely relish.  I eagerly look forward to sharing this film with my friends and family who are fans of horror.  

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